Independent Senator Tony Marshall (FP)
Independent Senator Tony Marshall (FP)

The National Insurance Department needs to be urgently “sanitised” and “immunised” to rid it of the political input now influencing its operations.

Retired banker Senator Tony Marshall, the agency’s most recent former Chairman, made that recommendation today as he outlined a series of concerns he had about the department’s functioning, including “grossly unsuited” staff being “put in senior positions”, too much power in the hands of the director, and the Minister of Finance being able to supersede the board on investment decisions.

As far as Marshall was concerned, the organisation in charge of the vital National Insurance Scheme should be a “closed department”, meaning no politician should be able to tell the professionals how to do their jobs, and he also asserted that “the management of National Insurance has no say in the selection of staff for that department”.

The independent member of the Upper House was speaking there during debate on the National Insurance and Social Security (Amendment) Bill, 2013.

The senator said authorities needed to make the department a truly professional outfit, but that this would not be achieved in the current environment of inadequate and in some cases poorly chosen staff, and political influence. “I can take the courage to throw out part of the problem within the National Insurance Department with respect to human resources and it is simply … the wrong people are selected, the management of National Insurance has no say in the selection of staff for that department, a vital department, … that is correct… I will not be challenged on that,” he stated.. “The second part is that some of the staff who come there although grossly unsuited are put in senior positions. It should not happen at all. I feel that the department should be a closed shop, I feel that the department needs to be immunised from politics. No minister should be able to give any direction to the board and when the board acts it acts.

“The minister will have the choice at the end of the period, if it is three years, … to fire the board without having any problem. It is done from time to time,” he added.

Marshall also appeared to have a major problem with the legislative provision which specified that national insurance monies may be invested by the board in such manner and in such securities as the minister responsible for finance may direct.

“I want to suggest that there are many pension funds across the world that are managed with the highest integrity and competence and they are not directed by a minister. This fund belongs to the people in Barbados, every single man, woman and child and once a competent board, persons trained, is put … to run it they should be able to run it without any directives from a minister,” he said. “We have the resources and the kind of people with the competence and the training to run that fund and it should be allowed to function just as the Financial Services Commission, just as the Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

“They are sanitised, the board is appointed and it’s there for the period for which it is appointed except (if) one of them goes berserk or one is found to be of unsound mind and financial infelicity. Outside of that I feel this board ought to be … such.”

Marshall also advised government not to take action that would indirectly encourage companies to be delinquent in their national insurance payments

“Quite frankly I would like to ask the minister to take back to her Cabinet that they should forgive all the outstanding debt on all of the revenue areas outstanding up to 2011 and then give everybody six months to pay,” he suggested.

“After that, function by the law, it’s no point wasting time on 2002 and 2003 and people who owe $4 million and $3 million and so on… We are going to achieve nothing. Let us treat it like a business.”

The former chairman also said NIS staff “need to be trained to be able to go out to executives of the highest companies and talk to them in such a way that they understand what their responsibilities are”.

“I am not sure that that is so there, and too much revolves within the chambers of the Director, too much revolves at that level and perhaps it happens because the department is what it is. But I seriously would recommend to the ministry that she uses her influence to get the Cabinet to agree that the department should be a closed department,” he said. (SC)

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