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NIS is a properly managed ‘sou-sou’ hand – Gonsalves

NIS is a properly managed ‘sou-sou’ hand – Gonsalves

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The Prime Minister is calling on this nation’s pensioners to be the “guardians of the NIS,” as the financial institution celebrates its 30th anniversary of existence.{{more}}

Last Thursday, January 5, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves delivered the keynote address at a Customer Appreciation Day event, specifically for pensioners, to commemorate the establishment of the National Insurance Services (NIS) in January 1987.

Gonsalves pointed out that of the current 13,373 registered beneficiaries, 7,000 of them are over the age of 60 and would have begun contributing under the NIS’s forerunner, the National Provident Fund (NPF).

“You are, therefore, of mature years; and you have a lot of wisdom gathered through experience. You have been through life; you are able to sift things – not to jump to hasty conclusions one way or the other, but to assess things carefully. Therefore, you have to be the public guardians of the NIS,” urged Gonsalves, while further pointing out that the over 60’s is the “fastest growing” segment of SVG’s population.

He further recalled that the introduction of the NPF in 1969 was then met with much resistance; but despite this, has flourished and thrived into what it is today – benefiting a large number of Vincentians.

With a payout of over EC$59 million in benefits in the last financial year, the Prime Minister explained that he regularly presents the audited accounts of the NIS to Parliament.

“It might pass, because it’s not commess. I know how we love commess, but that is real business because… you can run political campaigns and talk shows on commess, but you cannot run government on commess – it’s serious business for serious people,” he opined.

“The significance of that is that I am telling the whole country and the world [that] this is what we have done in the NIS, with all the explanations.”

Gonsalves also highlighted many of the NIS’s achievements over its 30 years of existence.

This includes the introduction of a minimum pension payment to beneficiaries in 1989. Since then, there have been increases in 1999 (under the New Democratic Party administration), 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2012 (all under the Unity Labour Party administration).

Additionally, there has been the introduction of the student loan programme (particularly for disadvantaged students) at a cost to date of $90 million; the 100 per cent mortgage finance programme; and the Elderly Assistance Benefit, among others.

Also speaking about the institution’s achievements was NIS executive director Reginald Thomas, who pointed out that when the NIS began in 1987, it had 278 beneficiaries, compared to the 13,373 it has now – a growth of 4,710 per cent.

In addition, the NIS’s assets amount to EC$483,413,303 million, a 750 per cent increase on assets when the institution first began.

Thomas said: “We are an institution which will continue to look out for you… to provide a quality of life for you.”

In his address, chair of the National Insurance Services Board Lennox Bowman assured the public that the NIS is in “very good hands”.

Bowman revealed that in 2017, the NIS will be doing more to enhance its mobility and accessibility to Vincentians.

“While we want to remain financially sustainable, we also wish to make a deliberate effort to include you, our stakeholders, in our plans.”

Bowman said that the NIS regularly conducts surveys to assess how well the institution is meeting beneficiaries’ needs so that it can “remain relevant” to its customers.

“Most of the survey results show that the NIS is doing a good job… However, we are cognizant of the need for a greater public information dissemination on making claims, so that there would be less rejected claims, and that claims processing will also be improved.”

He added: “We have been doing a lot of education, but still we find… there are a lot of questions asked, so we want to make ourselves even more accessible – not just online and information in the office, but certainly we want to have a lot of one on ones.”

The Prime Minister also spoke about employers who collect NIS payments on behalf of their employees, but fail to deposit those contributions to the NIS.

He explained that in recent times, he has recruited lawyers within the NIS to work on putting together cases to assist with the collection of said NIS contributions – of which there is often a need to forward such cases to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“It is a conversion; essentially the stealing of somebody else’s money and putting it to your own purpose,” he insisted. “When you withdraw it, you’re withdrawing it to pay over; it’s not your money… You’re holding it on trust, for the person, to pay it over to the NIS. We have to get very serious with it!”

He added: “For a lot of people, when you talk to them, they will come in and make arrangements, or if you put a charge on their property… they will come and make arrangements. But there are some, you could talk ‘til you’re blue in the face; you could put as much charge as you want on their property, you will have to do something else.”

The Prime Minister also urged self-employed citizens to contribute to the NIS.

“What you put in, you will get many times more than what you put in, because what we have here is a big kinda ‘sou-sou’ hand – properly managed… The time will come when you need a little something to put bread on the table, to pay the light bill, to pay the water bill.” (JSV)

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