You shall rise before the grey-headed and honour the presence of an old man [and old woman], and fear your God: I am the Lord.
–– Leviticus 19:32
We had complained that Senior Citizens Month –– celebrated for the greater part in September –– had lacked any major inspiring announcement of any special dedication to our elderly. We lamented the absence of the remotest of fanfare.
We needed to shake a leg, we argued, and get on with dedicating some especial attention to our old, as was customary at this time of the year, and acknowledging by public recognition the sacrifices our aged had made for the younger of us, and the good that attended us on account of their will and hard work.
To be truthful, a few events were subsequently announced and heralded marking such; but we did not bargain for the kind of attention the National Insurance Department would draw to our elderly pensioners. One may say that on account of the NIS, our old folks’ period of earned celebration went from exciting to astonishing, intriguing, absorbing and heart-stopping. Not the kind of occasion suited to senior citizens!
In the period of affection and endearment of our old, the NIS dared to tell our elderly pensioners –– quite nonchalantly through the Barbados Government Information Service –– that they wouldn’t be getting their cheques for another three weeks (well, at first), because its state-of-the-art computer system had been challenged, and it would take that time to fix the problem.
Needless to say, much disappointment and wrath were born of this. And the NIS disclosure’s coming at a time when bills are normally paid and other financial commitments honoured offered no appeasement.
Social media and the radio call-in comments were majorly scathing of the NIS, and maybe unkind when suggestions of having no money at all were made against the institution. These expressions would force National Insurance Scheme director Ian Carrington to attempt reassuring Barbadians that all was well with the NIS financially, knocking the rumour of any cash flow problems. Actually, Mr Carrington quite collectedly directed the public to the department’s website www.nis.gov.bb.
Said he: “Barbadians can go to our website and look at the latest actuary review. That review essentially indicates that at our current level of reserves, the funds will be depleted somewhere between 2045 and 2056; and as of August, 2014, the National Insurance Fund has reserves of $4.2 billion. As it stands today, the contributions we are receiving are sufficient to meet the benefit payments.”
That was on Wednesday afternoon last.
As for the issuance of pension cheques –– and we presume lodgements to personal bank accounts –– these should occur, Mr Carrington is said to have stressed, by the end of next week.
“We are hopeful that if everything goes well this weekend, [pensions] will be in the post by [next] Friday,” the NIS head declared.
Speaking from NIS headquarters in the Frank Walcott Building, exclusively to CBC, Mr Carrington officially confirmed that the source of pension and other benefit payment delays was a “hardware” problem. And, he sought to assure the public that an NIS team was eagerly and busily working on rectifying the failure of the backup power supply for the department’s production servers.
“. . . We have been able to get the supplier to configure for us the power supply and, as of today, I can advise you that it is in Atlanta, to arrive in Barbados by this weekend,” Mr Carrington said, doing his best to allay the angst of the public and the anguish of the elderly.
We will take some comfort in the director’s statement that our NIS has absolutely no cash flow problems, and will dare to presume we will not fall into the quagmire our Trinidadian counterpart finds itself, or never be subjected to the tragedy that besets our neighbourly elderly in Guyana where pension payments are erratic and unpredictable. But we can find no repose in the notion that an institution so well moneyed, as is our NIS, can be fumbling and tumbling over the lack of a current and appropriate backup system for the uninterrupted and proper disbursement of pensions.
That the director’s mum and dad are pensioners –– like those of other NIS staff –– is not enough to gain our understanding. Truly honouring our elderly is seeing nothing untoward befalls them in any manner or case.
As Acting Minister of Health Donville Inniss was bold enough to say, it is unacceptable; and, for it, some NIS heads should roll –– and they will indeed, if this Government is true to its mantra that Barbados is more than an economy; that it is a society!