Sen. Burke stands firm on NIS statement

The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has called on the state-owned National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to set the record straight in the public’s interest on the amount of money received from the Keith Mitchell-led government by way of worker’s contribution since the February 2013 general elections.

Congress Political Leader, Senator Nazim Burke is maintaining that NIS has not received $54 million in contributions from public servants from the cash-strapped ruling New National Party (NNP) Government of Prime Minister Mitchell.

According to Burke, the former Finance Minister in the 2008-13 period, he has received “credible information” to the contrary.

“This is not information I made up, there is no reason for me to just come and tell the nation any bold-face lie,” he said on a talk show radio programme.

“I can tell you that the information came from very reliable sources,” he told the host of the programme.

During last week’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Social Services Minister, Nickolas Steele refuted Sen. Burke’s claim stating that up to the end of October 2015, the stock of government arrears to NIS stood at $19.8M.
Minister Steele told the media that government’s monthly obligation to NIS is $1.65M.

“If he is right about that, and they’ve been in Office for 32 months now, then the total payments that would have had to be made was $52.8M,” Sen. Burke said.

He said if this figure of $52.8M was honoured by government and had reduced the arrears incurred by the previous NDC Government to $4.4M, when added it will be $57M.

However, Sen. Burke said the Social Services Minister is claiming that the NNP regime has paid $68.8M to NIS.

“The only way of proving the truthfulness of that statement is to have the NIS tell the nation what it received from the government,” he added.

“The person who holds the truth, who has custody of the truth on this issue right now is the NIS,” Burke said.

The exchanges between Burke and the NNP administration comes against the backdrop of an alleged agreement signed between the scheme and government on outstanding monies from loans due to the fund.

As part of the ongoing Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the Mitchell-led government was hoping to get the fund to accept a “hair-cut” in the region of 50-60% on outstanding loan payments.

The proposal was met with stiff resistance from some of the Board Members of NIS especially the representatives of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC).

A knowledgeable trade union official told this newspaper that, “what I am hearing is that the agreement covers 25 years – government gets a 10 year grace period but will begin to pay a three percent interest during that period”.

“My understanding is Trade union did not agree and employers had problems with the condition – however, government directors were fully supportive”, she added.

THE NEW TODAY was not able to reach Chairman of the NIS Board, Ron Antoine nor Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine for specific details on the government/NIS agreement on the outstanding loan payments.

The TUC is known to be concerned about the implications of the agreement on NIS’ ability to meet future obligations to workers.

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