By Jenique Belgrave
Minister of Energy and Business Development Senator Lisa Cummins has defended the Government’s move to safeguard the island’s social security net.
Speaking in the Upper House on Wednesday, she sought to assure Barbadians that the decision to transition the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to a standalone commercial state-owned enterprise was the correct step for the agency, noting that such an entity typically receives no monies from central government and is self-sustaining in financing its own operations.
“What has been created here, Mr President, is not only about governance which we will speak on over time. It is not only about independence and freedom from political interference about which we will speak. And it’s not only about ensuring effective management – we will speak about that too. But this is also about ensuring that our institutions are fit for purpose and equipped with professionals that are fit for the given role to which they have been assigned and that they are not subject to the vagaries of public sector transfers into and out of the system,” Cummins stated.
She pointed out that both of this island’s ports of entry are examples of commercial state-owned enterprises.
“The Grantley Adams International Airport is a commercial state-owned enterprise…. The Bridgetown Port is a commercial state-owned enterprise. It is run by a board, it finances itself from its own commercial opportunities and on the basis of its balance sheet. It oftentimes goes to the market and borrows directly as a result of that independent status. That is what is envisaged with this entity,” she explained.
Leading off a cognate debate on the National Insurance and Social Security (Amendment) Bill and the Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2023, she reiterated that there will be no “scaling back” of NIS benefits.
“This administration has made it absolutely clear that there will be no scaling back of our social contract with our people, that we are committed to putting people first. This Government is, perhaps above all else, a labour government. We put workers first; we put workers at the centre of our discussion…. There can be no scaling back of benefits but there has to be at the same time the balance of rights which we are guaranteeing, and responsibilities,” she said.
Saying Barbados has provided one of the most extensive social security benefits in the region and the rest of the world, Minister of Culture Dr Shantal Munro-Knight told those in the Upper House that it also provided some of the highest rates.
“Our system is one of the most generous regionally and comparatively internationally as well. So, while it is true that we have the highest contribution rate at 18.3 per cent, when you look at regional comparisons we also have the region’s highest minimum pension, at BDS$1 053, about US$526. The second highest minimum pension in the region is Trinidad at US$450, and the third highest is Bahamas at US$346…. Globally, if you look at Saudi Arabia, which has a higher fertility rate and positive population dynamics, they provide US$526 against ours, a small island, lower population and lower GDP, and we are providing a pension on par,” she said.