Parliament today granted approval for the National Insurance Board to have an additional board member.
That seat will be held by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Security or his/her nominee.
In tabling the National Insurance and Social Security Amendment Bill 2017, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler told the House that Minister of Labour and Social Security Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo had raised concern at Cabinet that her ministry, which has oversight for policy and the operation of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), was not represented on the board.
In this context, Cabinet agreed to increase the number of board members rather than replace a sitting board member, he explained.
As a result of the change, the board will now consists of two representatives each from the trade unions and the private sector, three Government-appointed members, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security representative, the Chief Labour Officer and the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs as ex-officio members.
Sinckler described the move as “useful and appropriate”, and insisted that the change in no way interrupted the balance of voting power on the board.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament Kerrie Symmonds was not buying the minister’s position, challenging Sinckler to tell the country “what is the specific mischief” he was hoping to correct by changing the composition of the board.
Symmonds argued that the National Insurance Board was deliberately structured to create a balance of power among key stakeholders, and the country could ill afford a change that would see it become an extension of Government.
Charging that the proposed change was merely a matter of “administrative convenience,” Symmonds told legislators that he had “not heard anything from the minister to accept there is a fundamental need for us to adjust the balance” of the board’s governance structure.
“I would like the Minister of Finance to tell the country what is the specific mischief that he has come here to correct, how the weakness of the management of the board has been manifested and how this particular piece of legislation is the best possible solution to correct the deficiencies that currently exist.
“We are trifling with the composition of the board that ought not to be troubled,” the Member of Parliament for James Central stressed, adding that the independence of the NIS board was particularly critical given the large sums of money Government owes the state entity.
“A lot of debt has been shifted to the National Insurance as a matter of convenience so that you have a debt to GDP ratio of 110 per cent, and recent history tells us that when there is a concern about the level of debt owed by statutory corporations in Barbados . . . it becomes an obligation of the National Insurance.”
Symmonds maintained that the board first had a duty to protect the interests of Barbadians, and questioned whether the private sector and the labour movement had approved the move to add another Government member.
His concerns were however dismissed by Sinckler who insisted there was no “mischief”.
“Government only has three political appointees, the other people on the board are there ex-officio and this increase in the number to add the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security itself does not disturb that pattern because that again is an institutional position.
“That person is not there to represent any partisan political view, but there to represent the interest of the country,” he said.