The taxpayers of Barbados have risen from their slumber this morning to the report that the NIS Board – headed by retired banker and talk show host Tony Marshall – has been ‘briefed’ on the Four Seasons project by the Cabinet of Barbados and ‘ordered’ to relook its imminent investment decision. The Four Seasons project stalled when capital markets went soft as a result of the global financial crisis. The decision to work with Professor Avinash Persaud to revitalize the project was steeped with optimism given his reputed international connections. However after many promises that the project would have restarted the government is now seen as the creditor as last resort.
It is evident from commentary on BU and on the ground that Barbadians are very weary of using social security funds to bail the Four Seasons project. The 101 reasoning by many is if the project is as viable as Minister Chris Sinckler and the IDB believe then why is it so difficult to acquire private sector investment? It was not very long ago in response to an actuarial study the NIS adjusted its pension eligibility as a result of the state of the NIS scheme vis a vis our ageing population. Barbadians have become very sensitive of late about how decisions are being taken about at the NIS. By the way has the CBC repaid that one million dollar loan yet? Did any heads roll as a result of the cockup with mailing old age pension cheques?
Peter Boos email in response to Gregory Hinkson’s full page in todays Nation newspaper (20/11/2011)
Peter Boos’ article released on 13/10/2011 to give context to the discussion on NIS pending decision to invest in the Four Seasons project
ISSA Study Group on the Investment of Social Security Funds – Guidelines for the investment of social security funds
The composition of the NIS Board is meant to convey that it should be independent in its decision making. The reality however is that the board is appointed by the minister responsible, in this case Minister Ether Byer-Suckoo, who has been unacceptably silent on NIS matters when contrasted with Ministers Sinckler and Kellman. When all is said and done Minister Sinckler has veto powers over the Board decision in this instance. The decision to summons the NIS Board to Bay Street last week to pressure them to rule favourably on a request from Persaud for 50 million NIS investment must be seen as a ploy to avoid Sinckler having to overrule the Board. It would be seen as a very unpopular decision at this time, a fact not lost on politicians who occupy marginal seats in parliament with a general election looming.
More worrying to Barbadians is the fact that our most important fund has lacked transparency over the years by not producing timely audited financial statements. This is an inefficiency which has existed under both governments and is generally accepted as endemic to the public service. Hopefully the CLICO Affair which is still spouting its mess across the Caribbean will sensitize all concerned to the importance of transparency in how we do business and the need for a robust governance system. The failed implementation of the FOIA by government and the lack of advocacy by the Opposition Party should say to Barbadians that the political directorship is happy with the status quo. Such a position reflects on us the people of Barbados who the government and the leader of the Opposition are required to serve.
The decision to summons the NIS Board to Bay Street must be seen as an intimidatory act. There is a process established for the NIS Board to make decisions. If there was a need for the Marshall led board to clarify issues contained in the proposal from Persaud then he should have been summons to the NIS board room. The act by government has set a dangerous precedent and the eagerness with which the NIS board reported to Bay Street should concern Barbadians taxpayers. The only action which should have been taken by them would have been to make their letters of resignation available to Minister Esther Byer-Suckoo. Then again why should we expect such in a system where to be a member of the NIS Board adds to the status of the individuals in a society which places a lot of credence on such things.
The NIS Fund should not be used as a bailout fund by the ‘naughty’ professor to quote the Chairman of the NIS. The reason why the high paying consultant was contracted in the first place was for him to exhaust his expertise and international network to resuscitate the Four Seasons project. To date he has failed to so and therefore his non performance should come under the microscope. The explanation by Minister Kellman that a restarted Four Seasons will employ people and their NIS contributions justifies the restart rises to the peak of stupidity. .