Government going after millions owed

estherbyersuckoobeltedGovernment is about to take additional action, including amending legislation and possibly publishing the names of delinquent parties, as it moves to collect the many millions of dollars owed to the National Insurance Department.

But Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, Senator Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, said personnel staffing the National Insurance Scheme were stretched and this was challenging the state entity’s efficient functioning.

She addressed the issue today while leading debate on the National Insurance and Social Security (Amendment) Bill, 2013 in the Senate, which was a validation of a waiver of interest and penalties on national insurance for employers, a programme implemented by the current administration. Some 55 companies applied for and received this assistance.

Byer-Suckoo, who has ministerial responsibility for NIS, said arrears continued to be a major headache for the agency and that the problem was compounded when delinquent companies agreed to pay and did not.

“This is a vexed problem that we have at the National Insurance Department, that of arrears and the inability to collect our outstanding arrears from big businesses, small businesses, from self employed persons, it is a real challenge that we are having,” she said.

“Right now the National Insurance Department is trying to enter into various arrangements with persons who have arrears so that they can bring these up to what is current, but … we have persons who are in arrears, they are approached by the National Insurance Department, they are advised that they are in arrears and they sit with the department and they make arrangements to make and then they renege on those commitments.

“And so we have a lot of persons … who have these arrangements, they don’t pay and they come and they enter into perhaps a second arrangement … and still they do not pay. Some of them don’t even attempt to pay,” she added.

The minister said a number of steps to improve collection of national insurance were being contemplated, “including strengthening the department so that there are officers who can actually process these claims and so on, but then we also now have to amend the legislation”.

Cabinet has already approved an amendment to the Limitation of Actions Act, allowing NIS to have six years, instead of the current three, to “make inroads and to be able to recover these sums”.

Also being considered was the publication of companies in arrears, a measure Byer-Suckoo said was intended to influence payment rather than naming and shaming businesses.

She also saw access to sufficient staff as a major challenge.

“In some areas the staff is not adequate to be able to process the volume of claims, deal with the number of cheques, interface with individuals who come for whatever reason,” she said.

“The IT project that they are doing also demands staffing so we do have some staff challenges as well. We have been able to improve in some areas but there are still some challenges (including) the processing of cheques.” (SC)

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