Two prospective candidates for the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) are among those likely to benefit from a tripling of the allowance paid to directors of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
This has been revealed to Barbados TODAY following recent concerns raised by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley that Cabinet was about to approve, or had approved, an increase of allowance for NIS board members from $300 to $900.
“In circumstances where other Barbadians are having to literally scotch to be able to eat food, then I say this is the wrong message we are sending our population,” Mottley told a political rally at the weekend without making any mention of the BLP’s interests on the board.
However, when contacted today, St Peter candidate Colin Jordan, who represents the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) declined to comment, and St Michael West Central candidate Ian Gooding-Edghill, who represents the Barbados Employers Confederation (BEC), was unavailable to comment on the matter, even as the suggestion was made that they should both recuse themselves from the NIS board in order to safeguard its integrity.
“Both men are declared candidates and one of them [Gooding-Edghill] has actually run in an election and it doesn’t look good from the optics and appropriateness of it,” said one financial analyst, who did not want to be identified.
“They should recuse themselves and allow their organizations to nominate people that are not closely connected to any political party,” he added, in view of the revelations made by Mottley during a BLP rally at the junction of Baxter’s Road and Westbury Road over the weekend, which he argued had only served to put the two men in an “embarrassing” and “compromising” position.
The BLP had advertised Saturday night’s meeting as “The Moment of Truth – Come and hear who misled the House of Assembly and the people of Barbados. Come and see the evidence.”
Before producing a Cabinet note, which she said “fell off a truck”, Mottley got her sound engineers to replay an excerpt of last week’s parliamentary session at which Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had denied knowledge that the NIS directors were in for a pay raise, which was being put forward by the Minister of Labour and Social Security Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.
“I can categorically deny that I have any knowledge of, or information pertaining to, any such matter between the Minister of Labour and the National Insurance,” Sinckler was heard to say, based on the recording from Parliament last week.
During the meeting Mottley also got former Cabinet minister and BLP candidate Reverend Joseph Atherley to go on stage to verify that the document in her hand was actual correspondence from a Cabinet meeting held on October 15, 2015, which not only addressed the matter of the increase for NIS directors, but also an increase in the size of the board to support the inclusion of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour as an ex-officio member.
“I come here tonight not to ask the Prime Minister to reshuffle him [Sinckler] out from the Cabinet, or to re-shuffle him from finance [but] to tell Chris Sinckler . . . apologize to the people of Barbados for what transpired in Parliament this week,” the BLP leader said without detailing the membership of the NIS board.
However, instead of apologizing, Sinckler further explained to reporters today that he was out the island on official business at the time of Cabinet’s approval of the NIS changes.
He also said the increase in fees payable to members of the NIS Board were simply to bring it in line with other financial/regulatory agencies, such as the Barbados Revenue Authority and the Financial Services Commission, pointing out that while the NIS Chairman was compensated at a rate of $1,800 per month and his deputy at $900 per month, other members had only received $300, which he said was not reflective of the billion dollar organization with a huge portfolio.
Today, Chairman of the NIS Justin Robinson also defended the increase, while echoing Sinckler’s argument in support of the change.
“The NIS board members do have a lot of responsibilities. It is a large fund. It is over $5 billion that is being managed,” Robinson told Barbados TODAY, adding that members also served on a number of committees, including the investment committee and the audit committee.
“So the members are quite active. But the key thing is that the proposed fees bring the NIS board members fees in line with the other major Government boards in particular the [Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc], BRA and Financial Services Commission,” he stressed.
Robinson also explained that of the nine members on the NIS board, three were presently nominated by Government, while the other six members represented the trade union movement, the private sector, the BHTA, the BEC and the Central Bank of Barbados, while suggesting that NIS fees had been out of line “for as long as there has been fees”.