Parliamentarians on Government’s side of the aisle took turns today during heated debate on the National Insurance and Social Security Amendment Bill 2017 at accusing the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) of using two of its political candidates who sit on the board of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to block the sale of the Hilton Barbados Resort.
While providing no evidence to support the charge, the onslaught was led by Minister of Housing Denis Kellman as he shot down claims levelled by the BLP’s Kerry Symmonds that Government’s move to expand the NIS board by adding a representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security was intended to increase the administration’s influence on the entity.
Kellman countered that the Opposition was out of line to raise questions about the additional board member when its candidate for St Michael West Central Ian Gooding Edghill and the St Peter candidate Colin Jordan were members of the board.
“You imagine that Mr Speaker, that the honourable member is in here complaining about a civil servant who is supposed to be independent, but we are supposed to accept two political candidates from the Barbados Labour Party on the board,” Kellman said.
The Member of Parliament for St Lucy went on to charge that the BLP was attempting to block the sale of the Hilton, and suggested that it was behind “fake news” circulating about the divestment of the hotel.
Minister of Education Ronald Jones went one step further and challenged the two Opposition candidates to step down.
Charging that the BLP had “infiltrated” the NIS, Jones said it was “in the best interest of those two members of the organization that they serve, since they are now political candidates, to remove themselves and ask their organizations to send somebody else.
“That is the best and decent thing to do,” he insisted.
The Minister of Education maintained that all state boards had a permanent secretary looking after the interest of the state in a very deliberate manner and there was nothing untoward about the decision to expand the NIS board.
However, Member of Parliament for St George South Dwight Sutherland was adamant in his contribution to the debate that Government still had a case to answer.
Citing the 15th Actuarial Review, he noted the recommendation for Government to conduct an independent study on the most appropriate governance structure for the NIS.
“I don’t think the actuary wanted a review of the governance structure to increase the Government’s influence on the National Insurance,” he said, while accusing the administration of “abusing” NIS funds and recommending that it be “censored” for failing to exercise prudence.
“Whether it is the sale of BNTCL [Barbados National Terminal Company Limited], whether it is the sale of the Hilton, whether it is use of the NIS funds in Four Seasons . . . whether it is the investment of 75 per cent of the National Insurance Fund in Government securities Mr Speaker, what is common Mr Speaker, to this Government is the lack of financial prudence,” he charged.