Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo has joined the chorus of criticism against a proposal by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to raise non-contributory pensions from $77.50 to $225 twice monthly.
Byer-Suckoo, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) candidate for St George South, told a party meeting in neighbouring St George North she was angered by the campaign pledge which BLP leader Mia Mottley made at the launch of her party’s election campaign on Saturday night.
“Many of you would have heard whenever the opposition mentioned national insurance they seem to have a choir singing that our national insurance isn’t safe and that it will run out in ten to 20 years.
“It angered me when I could hear reports coming from a meeting two nights ago where it was suggested that pensions in Barbados are just going to suddenly increase in the next few weeks if they should take office. Tell me on God’s sweet earth how are they going to do that,” she said.
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur yesterday described the promise as madness, warning it would bankrupt the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), while Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has led the DLP’s criticism of Mottley proposals, which include repeal of the National Social Responsibility Levy, reinstatement of free university education, the purchase of garbage trucks for the Sanitation Service Authority and buses for the Transport Board, and pay rises for public servants.
Sinckler said the proposals would cost the Treasury $400 million, money he said that was simply not there.
Still Byer-Suckoo said the NIS was sound, promising that pensioners had no reason to worry about their benefits, and boasting that “if we were to stop paying into NIS today there would still be enough money for a few decades because the investments are sound”.
“The National Insurance Scheme over the last 51 years has been able to serve Barbadians of all walks of life. But that National Insurance Scheme has recently become the centre of a lot of political games.
“In Barbados we have one of the best NIS . . . .It provides a range of services to you that many across the hemisphere do not even have,” she said.
Byer-Suckoo said Barbadians were fortunate to have the benefits afforded to them through the NIS, many of which she claimed other countries did not provide.
“We have for example, sick benefits. I am sure that almost everyone of you here have submitted at some point a sick leave form and you have had the benefit of getting your sick leave although you might not get it right away,” she told the meeting in Thorpes Cottage in support of fellow DLP candidate Jepter Ince.
“We get unemployment benefits here. Our unemployment fund has done what social security systems around the world have not been able to do. It provides you with unemployment benefits for 26 weeks,” she said.
Byer-Suckoo, who has responsibility for the NIS, said after the DLP administration realized the economy had gone into recession the unemployment benefits were extended to 40 weeks, but “the recession lasted for a while and we had to bring it back to 26 weeks”.
“We also provided maternity benefits, which we have been doing for more than 40 years. There are many countries in the world where women do not receive maternity benefits. Even though we have gone through the worse we have been able to maintain maternity benefits,” she said.