Opposition MP Dwight Sutherland has laid the blame for the recent system failure at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), which resulted in delayed payment of maternity benefits and pension cheques, squarely at the feet of Labour Minister Dr Esther Byer.
In his contribution to debate on the 2015/2016Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, Sutherland accused Byer of hiding and trying to pass the buck, insisting that she should take full responsibility for the problem which has resulted in hardship for vulnerable members of society.
“When things go wrong, you hide and duck and you try to pass the buck; that is not true leadership, that is not management. You have to be man enough or woman enough to say ‘we have had a problem and I take full responsibility as the minister for it’,” the St George South MP said.
Sutherland charged that the Labour Minister had instead “pinned” the blame on NIS director Ian Carrington and had issued him with a letter of reprimand, which he maintained should be withdrawn.
“I want to send a message this afternoon because if we really understand protocol, the Constitution of Barbados under Section 94 states that no minister can discipline the director of National Insurance, so why has she written the director of National Insurance trying to reprimand him for this issue?”
Sutherland, the Barbados Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for Labour and Security further accused Dr Byer of running her ministry by “trial and error”.
He charged that she had failed to ensure that sufficient resources were put at the disposal of the director of the NIS to ensure that pensioners and other persons received their benefits in a timely manner.
“It is very important, even at this time, that the minister comes to the public and let the public know what were the real issues with the system upgrade at the NIS.”
Insisting that ordinary Barbadians were suffering because the minister failed, Sutherland urged the Government to get its act together.
“We have to understand that the people’s livelihoods depend on these cheques that were clogged up in the system – maternity cheques, pension cheques. These are people who are operating at the lower spectrum of society, these are people who can hardly pay their light bills, these are some who rely on welfare
“We are talking about maintaining a solid safety net to maintain the most vulnerable but yet we are allowing IT system upgrades and failure of duty and care by the Minister of Labour to cause people to be suffering . . . and I am calling on the Democratic Labour Party and the minister to stop the nonsense.”