Letter: Give non-NIS pensioners an additional ex-gratia payment

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Dear Editor,

There are several positives about the new budget. Almost every budget item has increased. With increases in the budget, there will also be price increases, which would have an effect on the poor, especially fixed-income pensioners.

Government should be commended for increasing old-age pension and the minimum NIS payments to $36K and $43K respectively. Some pensioners would receive both their old-age pension and their NIS pension, and perhaps other private pension as well, giving them a disposable income that exceeds $79K. But most pensioners are not so fortunate. Most pensioners do not receive NIS, forcing them to make do with their old-age pension, which can barely buy a week’s basic ration for a family of four. Prices have skyrocketed since Covid.

Pensioners are at a disadvantage, and Government should consider paying an additional amount of, say $20K, to those pensioners not receiving NIS. Government has access to data to know who are (or are not) receiving NIS. It should be noted that rural workers faced discrimination in pursuing state employment, unlike urban and suburban dwellers and workers, who have easier access to NIS office to query about NIS. Thus, unlike state employees, they could not make contributions to benefit from NIS. Government should provide them with an additional ex-gratia monthly payment.

Government should streamline the NIS pension system. Too many workers made contributions into the fund but, through no fault of their own, accurate records were not kept. Complaints abound among former sugar workers, farm workers, and low-income salaried employees in the private sector, especially in rural areas. Many complained to me in course of my polling studies.

Unlike state employees, whose NIS records were well kept and up-to-date, private sector employees and the self-employed, particularly those who worked for the sugar estate, rice industry, lumbering, and as farm workers, are not up to par. Their employers probably did not submit their contributions, or made errors, or NIS office could have erred, or some other breakdown occurred that was no fault of the workers. The burden should not be on the workers to supply evidence of their claim. Workers never kept record; they never developed that culture, unlike in developed countries. The period of the dictatorship made it impossible to maintain records or have accurate records. Why should the workers be penalised?

It is most unfortunate that Government appealed the ruling of the court that sided with the pensioner on NIS contributions. The lower ruling had merit. Instead of challenging the ruling, Government should try to find ways to verify the claims of contributions of NIS contributors. It is not brain science.

One creative way is that Government could interview (former) work colleagues of a claimant to ascertain information on the claim. Affidavits could be pursued. Government should err on the side of pensioners, not challenging them on claims of NIS contributions. Also, flaws in the NIS system should be rectified, so that errors of the past are not repeated.

Yours truly,Dr Vishnu Bisram