Less than 24 hours after the National Insurance Scheme revealed it is using funds from the mainline social security fund to pay jobless claims after exhausting the unemployment benefit fund, Opposition Leader Reverend Joseph Atherley has expressed concern over the manner in which NIS funds are being spent and in the way it is being governed.
Acting Director of the National Insurance Department Jennifer Hunte revealed Wednesday that the NIS’s unemployment fund was exhausted, leading to money being borrowed from the NIS fund to satisfy unemployment benefits.
NIS Board Chairman Leslie Haynes QC also disclosed that the NIS had presented a paper to the Ministry of Finance seeking permission for it to transition to a statutory body.
Reverend Atherley told Barbados TODAY he was troubled by both developments.
He said for years he had voiced concern about the way in which funds from the NIS and Central Bank were being used.
Reverend Atherley said: “I have always expressed concern publicly both on the floor of Parliament and outside with reference to governance issues, particularly so the NIS funds as well as the Central Bank. I’ve raised the query as to when and how both these funds which would have been impacted by the Government debt restructuring exercise of 2018-2019 and now more so the NIS fund by the unemployment impact occasioned by the COVID situation. I’ve always asked the question as to how and when these funds will be capitalized and when would we address issues of governance around these funds.
“It needs to be such a degree of independence of the interference from the political directorate as to give Barbadians the confidence that both the Central Bank resources as well as the NIS funds were being properly managed.
“I’m still not happy that we’ve properly addressed the matter of governance with respect to these things.”
Reverend Atherley suggested that the unemployment fund could come under even more pressure post-COVID.
He said Government needed to provide a clear and concise strategy as to how the fund would be recapitalized.
Said the Opposition Leader: “So the Government really needs to address squarely and properly for the full enlightenment of the public of Barbados, what are we going to do about Government’s issues around these institutions and how we are going to recapitalize the funds because whether we want to admit it or not, those funds have been impacted by the fallout from COVID, it has been impacted by bad Government practice and policy in the first place under this administration and prior to that and those funds need to be properly recapitalized because at the end of the day these funds come from Barbadian pockets and right now Barbadian pockets are quite strained.”
The Opposition Leader further contended that the move to a statutory board would not solve the NIS’s problems.
He said while the chairman voiced displeasure about losing staff to other Government agencies, there were much more serious issues at hand.
“He seemed to be concerned strictly about control of staff, said Reverend Atherley, “but my concern is the broader issue of governance of the institution and independence to some extent from the political process.
“We have seen appointments to both the NIS board as well as the Central Bank Board which quite clearly have been political appointments and putting in place operatives who will operate on behalf of Government from a political perspective but you need proper managers of the NIS fund which is significant and the well-being of Barbados today as well as tomorrow.
“So simply to say you want to move the NIS to a different kind of legal corporate status because you’re concerned about control over the staff or losing staff is insufficient.” ([email protected])