An Opposition spokeswoman last night called for the true picture to be given of Barbados’ economic situation, while warning that the vital National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was already in the red.
As recently as last month, social security minister Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo sought to reassure Barbadians that there was no need to worry about the stability of the social security programme.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a recent productivity workshop, Byer-Suckoo had also promised that a detailed update on the state of the NIS and its ability to meet its obligations was yet to come, even as she dismissed any notion that the scheme was handing funds to Government.
“This notion that NIS pays the bills for Government, that the NIS provides funding for Government, is erroneous in that National Insurance may lend money to Government at very high rates, National Insurance doesn’t say, ‘here, you cannot afford it we will pay that bill’. National insurance may loan money to Government and national insurance is guaranteed in contract, a high return on investment when it lends money to Government.
“So what does that mean down the line for National Insurance and their liquidity and so on? They are not at risk. It ensures they are not at risk in ensuring that loan agreement provides them with a sufficient return [and] the Government of Barbados does not default on its loans,” Byer-Suckoo assured at the time.
However, addressing a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) meeting at the George Lamming Primary School on Sunday night, economist Marsha Caddle warned that the NIS was currently not running a profit.
In fact, she warned that not only had the NIS over-extended itself by lending to Government the equivalent of 74 per cent of its assets, but in keeping with a recent International Monetary Fund report, “NIS expenditure began to exceed contributions in 2013”.
The Opposition spokeswoman also cautioned that NIS payments of pensions and other benefits will become more than contributions received from workers as of 2024.
Similar warnings were issued by the Opposition Shadow Minister of Labour and Social Security Dwight Sutherland last month.
Last night Caddle also took issue with the latest report from the Central Bank that unemployment fell to ten per cent for the four quarters ending in September last year.
The former economist at the Caribbean Development Bank, who is due to contest the next elections for the BLP in St Michael South Central, cautioned that the jobless numbers simply did not add up.
“I, and people in St Michael South Central, can tell you that they might have kept their jobs, but if before they were working six days a week, they are now working two.
“So yes, they have a job, but what is the income?” she asked.
Caddle further argued that these underemployed Barbadians were still being counted among the employed, while “carrying home less than half the salary”.
She also pointed out that their responsibilities remained the same, despite the reduction in income.
“They don’t have less than half the children. They don’t have less than half the bills,” she said, while accusing the Central Bank’s administrators of “coming to us with these fairy numbers”.
The economist suggested that in order for Government to get a true picture of the employment situation locally, officials must visit the homes of ordinary Barbadians.
“Look at how people are living, listen to how people are living. Go among people and see what they have to eat, and what they don’t have to eat. That is how you will know what is happening in this country,” the Opposition candidate suggested.