The Lower House of Parliament Tuesday night passed a Bill granting self-employed persons and businesses a waiver of interest on arrears owed to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) between October 1 last year and March 1, 2017.
However, the waiver will only be granted to those whose arrears of contributions are paid in full on or before March 1, 2017.
“It’s a win-win situation,” declared Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who piloted the National Insurance and Social Security (Amendment) Bill, 2017 through its parliamentary stages Tuesday.
In wrapping up debate on the measure, Sinckler said, “we hope that persons and companies, whoever may be indebted to the Fund take the opportunity . . . to get their house in order and to ensure that we get at least those basic contributions in”.
He noted that Cabinet had decided a few years ago that businesses indebted to NIS or any other Government agency would be allowed access to Government contracts. However, he said entities would now have to make good on obligations.
“You get a contract, we’re going to leverage on it to make sure that you pay who you owe,” he said.
Sinckler also pointed to delinquent statutory corporations saying it was important that “they too meet their obligations”.
Earlier, the Minister of Finance had reported that delinquent self employed individuals and companies were rushing to take up Government’s amnesty offer on NIS contributions, explaining that the amount collected by the scheme over a five-month period was almost twice as much as was expected.
In fact, Sinckler said provisional figures showed that the scheme collected close to $40 million during the period, compared to the $25 million initially projected.
“We had estimated about $25 million and we ended up getting almost $40 million. And that is just a provisional figure because when the amnesty came to an end there were still people who had not been processed,” Sinckler explained.
“So we see it as a win-win situation between Government getting in some of the principal revenue that it is owed, and individuals and companies having the opportunity to kind of clear the debt, reset their operation and give them an ease in terms of their cash flows and allow them to do other things in the society including conducting business with Government,” he said.
It was following his August 2016 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals that he announced a five-month tax amnesty for taxpayers across all categories of Value Added Tax (VAT), Income tax and Land Tax, that the board of the NIS also requested an amnesty for defaulters to the fund.
“The request came in and I saw no reason why we should object to it. We did not. We approved the request and notified NIS as such,” said Sinckler, while disclosing that although the legislation needed amendment to facilitate the waiver of interest, he had used his power as Minister of Finance to grant it.
Sinckler said almost on a monthly basis he would get requests from businesspeople who were indebted to the NIS for him to grant them a waiver.
He said the NIS department, which is owed millions, was “so happy” that people had responded well to the reprieve that they had recently asked for it to be extended. However, he did not say if that request would be granted.