Efforts by the Guyana Government to improve the quality of service offered by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to contributors and pensioners have proven to be fruitful after the agency disposed of nearly half of its backlog in some two years.
During his presentation of Budget 2023 last week, Senior Minister with Responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh commended the NIS and its Board for the large reduction in pending NIS claims since the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) return to office.
“As of August 2020, the backlog of claims outstanding and on query was 20,106. It is encouraging that as of December 2022, the backlog was reduced to 10,902. Further, of the 1,362,734 [suspended] and invalid numbers existing in the database, the Scheme was able to resolve 1,103,835 during 2022,” Dr Singh stated.
The NIS has historically been the provider of social security when earnings are interrupted by illness or accident, for exceptional expenses related to birth or death, and for retirement by age. In fact, for many pensioners, this is their only source of income.
According to the Minister, it is for these reasons that the efficiency of the operation of the Scheme is critical, because in many instances, lives, health and wellness are dependent on this source of income.
To this end, he pointed out that Government has been proactive in its support of the agency and has in the immediate term urged the newly appointed Board of the Scheme to prioritise: resolving the inherited backlog of long outstanding matters; addressing the deficiencies in the systems within the Scheme; and implementing programmes to improve compliance by delinquent employers to protect the interests of all working people.
Nevertheless, in addition to reducing the backlog, the NIS operationalised the connection for electronic transfers into the national payment system architecture in October 2022. This has resulted in 750 pensioners being paid directly into their bank account at one commercial bank.
“It is anticipated that this will be expanded to cover all commercial banks during 2023, thereby enabling thousands of pensioners to be paid directly into their bank account. In addition, the use of WhatsApp to make claims and submit video-styled life certificate validations served to reduce the need for travel to the NIS office,” Dr Singh noted.
The Finance Minister further disclosed that compliance campaigns and expanded outreaches will continue to be an active strategy to ensure that both employers and workers are educated of their benefits from joining the Scheme. This is especially critical given that the financial viability of the Scheme has over the years depended primarily on the contributors’ payments.
Notwithstanding, Minister Singh further posited that medium-and longer-term solutions, most importantly, continue to be actively examined with a view to ensuring the long-term viability of the NIS.
While speaking at the 53rd anniversary of NIS last October, Dr Singh had stated that the PPP/C Government remains committed to improving the quality of services provided by the NIS by making the agency more accessible to contributors in addressing issues, bringing contributors’ records up to date and ensuring that they receive their benefits in a timely manner.
He had noted that the public outreaches are serving as a medium to tackle the backlog of cases across the country. However, he contended that there is no need for such exercises since the same services they provide during the outreaches can be offered at the local NIS office across the country.
“I am, once again, tasking the NIS, its Board, its management, and its staff to make the rapid transformation that is necessary to eliminate the need for these outreaches,” the Finance Minister had said.
Moreover, he had also called on the Scheme to reinstate the annual statements to contributors in order to ensure they keep abreast with their contributions as well as verify their accuracy.
This system was introduced under the Chairmanship of Dr Roger Luncheon, whereby employers would be given a contribution statement annually for their employees to be appraised of their contributions. However, this practice had stopped.
To this end, Dr Singh urged, “I’m asking you to reinstitute this practice. As a matter of fact, every contributor should get a statement every year… Every contributor should get a statement once a year and be encouraged to regularise and fix any gaps they observe.”
This way, according to the Finance Minister, any inaccuracies can be fixed early and not when the contributor reaches retirement age and qualifies for benefits.