The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is charging that the governing Democratic Labour Party is trying to tilt the balance of power on the board of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to influence decision-making on major investments by the social security scheme.
When the Upper House debated the National Insurance and Social Security Amendment Bill 2017 tonight, Opposition Senator Dr Jerome Walcott claimed that increasing the size of the NIS board was the least among the issues confronting the state body, while arguing that the amendment appeared to represent a power move.
The legislation is to allow for an additional member on the board, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour.
Dr Walcott insisted the Chamber should be debating a measure giving greater independence to the NIS rather than one that would increase Government’s influence on the entity.
In fact, the Opposition senator argued that adding the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour to a board that was already heavily weighted with three Government appointees, as well as the chief labour officer and the director of economic affairs, would result in the state being able to outvote the two representatives of employers and the two representing the labour movement who sit on the NIS board of directors.
Dr Walcott said he was confused by the rush to amend the legislation just five days before Christmas.
“I am even more baffled by the urgency for us to be doing this. We will normally have the chief labour officer report to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour. Now we will have a chief labour officer and his permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour sitting on the same board. One of them will have to be redundant. It is not necessary,” the former health minister argued.
“Are we preparing for the representatives of labour and the employers to be outvoted when critical decisions are being made regarding investment of NIS funds?”
Moreover, the BLP spokesman suggested the move was paving the way for Government to strengthen its hand when it begins to address the issue of debt reprofiling.
Expressing grave concern about the level of NIS investment in Government paper, he cited the most recent actuarial review of the social security scheme which flagged the more than 70 per cent investment in Government debt, saying this level of exposure represented a significant risk to the NIS.
Meanwhile, Dr Walcott slammed the lack of information surrounding the sale of Hilton Barbados Resort, a hotel in which the NIS had invested $10 million.
According to the Opposition senator, Government was “giving away” the iconic hotel for US$80 million when its last valuation was the equivalent US$126 million.
In this connection, he said if the proposal to sell the Hilton to an entity called L&R from the United Kingdom for US$80 million were true, Government stood to lose approximately US$46 million on the deal.
“You have an asset that is performing, an iconic symbol in Barbados and you are giving it away literally; a performing asset . . . and we are in here debating an amendment to the National Insurance Act to add a member to [the board]. And the NIS has $29 million invested in this entity,” Dr Walcott told the Senate.