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Concerns surrounding NIS appearing on political platform

The female employee of the National Insurance Scheme who appeared on the platform of the NNP's October 27 convention in St. Patrick

Former Public Relations Officer of the ruling New National Party (NNP) and Political Leader of the short-lived Grenada Progressive Movement (GPM), Terrence Forrester has added his voice to the widespread debate sparked by the appearance of an employee of the state-owned National Insurance Scheme (NIS) at the October 27 NNP Convention and Rally at the Mc Donald College in St. Patrick.

The move has raised questions surrounding whether or not public officers should be appearing on political platforms. According to Forrester who has now taken up membership of the main opposition National Democratic Congress, this move by NIS to send a representative to address the NNP event is “unlawful”.

“It is very clear that the rules of the Public Service Commission (PSC), except it has been changed recently, states that if a public officer wishes to make a statement on any matter, he or she needs to get permission, first of all from his or her Permanent Secretary or the Public Service Commission…”, he said.

“The NIS needs to understand the rules of the PSC (because) the NIS is a statutory body and a creature of government (and) appearing on the political platform sends the wrong message,” he added. In July, the Keith Mitchell-led government approved a recommendation of the NIS governing board to increase the contribution rate from 9% to 11%, to be shared equally between employees and employers, with the employee now paying 5% and the employer paying 6% which is expected to take effect in January 2020.

The NIS has said the increase is necessary as it is presently struggling to pay pensioners resulting in the NIS dipping more and more into its reserved funds.

THE NEW TODAY understands that the NIS representative used the NNP political platform to sensitise the gathering on the reasons why the increase has become necessary at this time. The official also told NNP’ities that the Mitchell regime has been paying to NIS on time each month.

However, Forrester who strongly criticised the move by NIS, described the decision to send the representative as being “tantamount to an unfortunate act by the NIS.” “Overall, what this does is undermine the institutions of our country,” he said, adding that “Dr. Mitchell refuses to accept rules and regulations,” which he believes “is going to create serious problems for us in the future”.

“I have heard persons making statements trying to justify the fact that it was very important information. Notwithstanding that the information that the NIS was sharing was useful to the public, what they have done there is compromise the integrity of the National Insurance Scheme. “Once a statutory body representative appears on the platform of a political party, it says that the entity is partisan – it takes on a  political flavour and a political colour. A statutory body has to serve the entire nation and not just one political party. So, no representative from a statutory body should appear on a political platform.

Newly elected Deputy Political Leader of NNP, Works Minister Gregory Bowen, disagreed with Forrester and commended the NIS for making an appearance on the NNP platform to share relevant information. “I must commend them (NIS) for doing that and I think (the) NDC (National Democratic Congress) and the other parties should do this as well.

They came and imparted the knowledge and these people (NNP’ites) can now go out understanding more and with the party network, they could explain to the rank and file people on the ground why it is necessary and it is very necessary to do what they are asking to do”, he told reporters. “…

People did not realise the risk and the danger that Grenadian workers, those who contributed (to the NIS) were in until she (the NIS official) explained (in the presentation at the Convention),” he said. According to Bowen, this was the second time that a presentation from NIS was given to the party at one of its sessions. He said that the first was made at a General Council session, which is a much smaller gathering than the annual NNP convention and “it shows that the party has continuity, is moving on and is one united front – something that we continue to boast.”

An informed source told this newspaper that the NIS would have been better off financially, if the Government of Grenada had acted with urgency on recommendations put forward over the years in the last 11 actuary reports received from the NIS Board. However,

Bowen attributed the delay in implementation of the reports to the change in government administration over the years among other things. He said: “I think it’s the change in government and other things came forward and when we moved to the Structural Adjustment Programme that was exceedingly necessary (and) it was definitely not the opportune time to impose that and even if we had to go to 1.3% as opposed to 1.1.

“…People were definitely feeling the pinch and we were asking them to make a sacrifice. So, you might say well we could have done it when we came back in office in 2013 (but) that was when we were asking the people to make a sacrifice and they did.

“What I believe we failed to do is start educating people since then, so that by now they would have seen what it was but of course we had to look at asking them for a sacrifice and coming with this thing down the line may not be good psychologically wise”.

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