Sutherland: Government mismanaging NIS funds

Barbados Today's Estimates-01Opposition spokesman on Labour Dwight Sutherland has blasted Government’s use of funds from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

He charged that the Freundel Stuart administration’s mismanagement was evident in the state of the Unemployment Fund of the NIS, which he said was “bankrupt all of a sudden”.

According to Sutherland, the Government had proposed to shore up the fund with $12.5 million but so far it had only received $6.5 million at a time when the unemployment rate was “as high as 20 percent”.

Opposition spokesman on Labour Dwight Sutherland
Opposition spokesman on Labour Dwight Sutherland

“Part of the reason why you are seeing part of the Unemployment Fund going bankrupt or in such a deficit is as a result of the investment portfolio being contaminated by this Government. This Government is holding too much Government paper as opposed to investing the surplus funds overseas to generate a good rate of return to shore up the Unemployment Fund,” he said.

“The surplus money should be invested wisely so that people, when they reach their twilight years, can receive a pension, so that people who are unemployed can get unemployment funds. But I don’t think that is being
done presently.”

Sutherland further charged that the Government owed the NIS close to $200 million and the integrity of the Scheme was under threat because Government was collecting NIS from workers’ salaries and wages and not paying it into
the fund.

“If the Government owes the NIS $200 million, what moral authority does this Government have to pursue the private sector and self-employed workers who themselves have not paid in money to the NIS? This Government is undermining the integrity of the NIS whose funds they are holding in trust but yet they want private sector companies and the self employed persons to pay NIS.”

The St George South MP said while there was nothing wrong with using NIS funds, as the former Barbados Labour Party administration had done when it invested in the Hilton Barbados, he maintained Government had to ensure that any investment generated a decent rate of return.

“You simply cannot pick up NIS funds and spend willy-nilly like you did in Four Seasons which is still to come to fruition,” Sutherland said.

“The Democratic Labour Party utilized NIS funds, built a building in Warrens, but they have not yet repaid those funds to the NIS . . . We have to safeguard against utilizing these funds because you are acting as a trustee on behalf of the people of this country and you must take your responsibility very seriously, discharge it with more duty of care, because we are looking after the people’s interest and these are the more vulnerable people in the country. So if you want to maintain a social safety net for the most vulnerable people you need to invest NIS funds more wisely and you also need to stop using the NIS funds recklessly.”

He challenged Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer to take charge of the situation so that Barbadians could continue to benefit from the Scheme for years to come.

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