Democracy, Apathy and the National Insurance Fund

For many years the blogmaster and others have posted voluminously about the importance of the citizenry actively participating in the type of democracy parodied from the former colonial master. While no man made construct is perfect the system of democracy practiced by the Western world is described – some will say by the cynics – as the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried. 

Several reasons (excuses) have been offered for the increasing cynicism, distrust and apathy being directed by Barbadians at government – with decreasing voter turnout to elect members to parliament and poor turnout at town hall meetings to critique government sponsored initiatives is a good litmus test.

In recent days the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has finally had to declare to the public the sorry state of the National Insurance Fund (NIF). For political reasons she indicated that the condition of the NIF was brought to her attention in June of 2022. However, keen followers of local affairs will recall that after winning the 2018 general election she stated publicly the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was in a mess and the government will have to circle back to it at some point. Also the 2015 NIS Actuarial Review along with Walter Blackman and other social commentators sounded off concerns about the rate NIS pension benefits were outstripping savings going back to the 2015 NIS Actuarial Report

Here is something we know, Prime Minister Mia Mottley CANNOT deny the poor state of financial discipline in the public service evidenced by over a decade old Auditor General reports. Can we reasonably assume she will assemble ALL permanent secretaries and relevant personnel as a matter of urgency to correct the problem? Surely poor financial management in government departments must be made a priority to ensure there is efficient use of scarce taxpayer resources? Then again didn’t the late prime inister David Thompson assemble the top management of state owned entities (SOEs) in 2008 to warn better was expected and how has that progressed 15 years later?

We are here now and Barbadians have been promised the opportunity to participate in stakeholder sessions to help with reimagining a NEW NIS Scheme. The blogmaster anticipates there will be energetic public participation given the threat of reduced NIS benefits and possible changes to eligibility. 

Do Barbadians understand the reason for the current state of play at the NIF – as one example – has a lot to do with the disinterest demonstrated to actively participate in our democracy? The disengagement has created a situation where the tail is wagging the dog and given rise to a marauding political class. Imagine if the same noise currently polluting the public space about the NIS was able to be sustained on the many other serious issues always confronting the country. 

The importance of a robust governance framework cannot be underscored as it relates to ensuring an efficient implementation and management of policies, accountabilities and performance to name a few components. If Barbadians are as intelligent as the size of the national allocation to the education budget suggests, there must come a time IQ/EQ is tangibly demonstrated through citizen advocacy even if it has to resort to civil disobedience. History is replete with examples to support meaningful change is only achieved when extreme positions are taken.

National Insurance Fund in Critical Condition

After the dust settled yesterday evening at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Sandiford Centre (LESC) Prime Minister Mia Mottley confirmed in flowery language what some in this medium and elsewhere have been alerting the public. The National Insurance Fund (NIF) on its current trajectory will be unable to honour its obligations to persons eligible for benefits from as early as 2034 – that is a short 12 years.

Briefing on the state of the NIS Fund (10 Aug 2022)

Was Prime Minister Mottley quoted in the press correctly that she was alerted to the danger faced by the NIS in June 2022 by actuary Derek Osborne? Surely the Prime Minister does not believe some of us are so gullible? That aside the blogmaster is pleased on the occasion of the availability of the 17th Actuarial Review of the National Insurance Fund, Unemployment Fund and Severance Fund as of December 31, 2020 it has finally been positioned on the front burner. 

A bone of contention has been the inability of the NIF to produced up to date financials. We learned yesterday during the press briefing at LESC the challenge is linked to reporting cash and accrual items and is being addressed by the NIS Board and Auditor General’s office. Again the promise of when current financials will be available is cloaked in non committal language. Although the NIS continues to struggle to produce current audited financials the prime minister’s message is correct, the structural problems afflicting the NIS looms large and must be the priority 1 concern.

The key takeaway from the briefing yesterday is that in a short 12 years the NIF will not be able to pay benefits to those eligible IF reform measures are not taken in the short term. With an ageing AND shrinking population there are limited corrective options available that will not be ‘painful’- add an underperforming economy to the mix and houston, we have a problem. 

Source: NIS

That it has taken so long to get to where we are today is bound up in politics but we are here now. Better late than never some say. Deputy chair of the NIS Board Rawdon Adams appears to have a grasp of the problem and seems earnest in his comments to move the matter along. We wish him and his Board of Directors well. The NIS is our rh life line.

Honouring Laws in the Breach

Yesterday the blogmaster allocated some time to listen to Minister Ryan Straughn’s (opening 40 minutes of the video posted) moving the second reading of the Amendment to Financial Service Commission (Amendment) Bill 2022. The purpose of the amendment was to validate a fee regime to support the Financial Services Commission (FSC) being financially self sufficient. The other reason was to address an issue of FSC Board being able to carry out its function if a board member is absent. There can be no disagreement that relevant financial regulation is important to protect citizens and maintain a sound financial environment. Over the years Barbadians have suffered financial loss with the failures of New India, Trade Confirmers and in recent years CLICO. The job to maintain a robust financial framework is never ending.

During Straughn’s contribution to the debate a few random thoughts came to mind:

◦ He spent some time addressing the need of government to respond to the emergence of digital currencies including crypto. The blogmaster wondered about the inadequacy of existing legislation to cater to gullible citizens who engaged in popular Ponzi schemes like Blessing Circles and others. Last year an official of the FTC indicated authorities were working to strengthen existing legislation. We wait.

◦ The release of the 2021 Auditor General (AG) report has again exposed the inadequacy of the oversight framework to address exceptions raised by the AG. It must be said that many of the AG’s findings do not mean money was stolen, it maybe a case of incompetence of personnel and an inefficient systems. The blogmaster recalls Straughn speaking to the 2019 Financial Management Act and how it was intended to demand greater accountability from State Owned Entities (SOE). It is fair to conclude after four years in government the legislation has not delivered what was intended. Concerned citizens should be worried why successive governments have been unable to enforce the intent of legislation on the books.

◦ On the BU platform concerns have been repeatedly posted about unacceptable delays of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) generating timely audited financial statement AND posting actuarial reviews. The NIS is arguably one of the most important SOEs given its importance to supporting quality of life for citizens in the golden years, a vulnerable time in the life cycle. What use has existing legislation served to ensure a robust oversight framework? Even when there was a duly constituted Public Accounts Committee (PAC) it was ineffective. Today there is no PAC.

The blogmaster recognizes the need to regulate the financial market with fit for purpose laws, however, one is forced to ask – with voluminous existing legislation are we better off for it given the current state of play? The takeaway is that it requires more than laws to create a harmonious and effective market place. We also need improved people management and enforcement of the laws already on the books.

Where do we go from here?

The House of Assembly – Tuesday 19th July 2022

A Campaign Rehash of Nothingness

The blogmaster with the benefit of technology listened to a few of the political meetings from the different political parties and with 7 days left to V-Day- he has a confession to make. Given the current crisis state of the socioeconomic landscape of Barbados, if ever there was a time for sensible Barbadians to make voices heard, the time is now. Kudos to the loyalists who have been willing to brave the threat of coronavirus infection to listen to the voluminous platitudes barked at them from the different political platforms.

The Barbados economy has been operating at junk level in recent years and although some will present the chicken and egg argument, society or economy – Barbados has reached a critical juncture in its post independence journey where radical decisions should be made to ensure a wholesome society can be sustained.

Dear Dr. Estwick

We have all the time in the world. Technology permits you to post the full details to YouTube or similar. We look forward to reviewing the details. By the way – “What the Government should have done is to ask the NIS to float a medium-term Treasury note or a long-term Treasury debenture for the exact sum of money owed by the Government, and the money should have been therefore obtained from the Central Bank of Barbados.”

Please explain in detail. Sure sounds like a massive money printing operation to me, I hope I am mistaken.


The issue of the NIS Scheme (fund) has been fleetingly mentioned by the prime minister and the urgent need to recapitalize the fund to ensure it remains a lifeline for senior citizens. The fund has been raided by successive governments through the years as the cash cow of first resort. The fund was encouraged to sell shares in strategic assets for 30 pieces of silver. Its investment committees have had no qualms sopping up government paper touting higher yields as a defense to investment strategy and ignoring the risk factor indicator. In 2018 the government administered a bald fade on bond holders et al and over night over ONE BILLION rh dollars dissipated.

Unlike the politicians and political talking heads the blogmaster will not bother to be prolix and vacuous on an important matter. A sensible driver of a vehicle will not with eyes wide open and in possession of faculties steer the vehicle over a cliff. The Barbados Economy is precariously perched on the edge of an economic cliff. What more will it take for the majority of educated Barbadians to be sensitized to the current state of play? Instead we are concerned about our inability to support conspicuous consumption at the level of household. What is wholesale, what is retail? What is global, what is local? What is macro, what is micro? In an ‘ecosystem’ all entities are by design interconnected and must optimally perform for the good of the whole. 

Barbados cannot succeed if citizens do not constructively engage in the civil society construct. Barbadians have surrendered civic responsibility to an elite few. We continue to pay the price for our cowardice by not exercising our rights as citizens. It is the only way a democracy will be able to breath without a respirator.

New National Insurance Board Reads More of the Same

The following comments by Northern Observer were extracted from the NIS.Government Paper for Trash blog.

Comment 1
WHO is on the NIS Board? WHO replaces Carrington as head executive?

I rarely agree with T.Inniss, but what claims to Chairmanship or leadership of a body as complex and important as the NIS does Mr. G-E have? Being the BEC rep on the last Board is not a ringing endorsement. This has a very smelly political odour. This is a more important role than most Ministerial appointments. And this AP is showing up in too many significant roles, a little separation is a good thing, especially in Financial related roles.

The last Board was a monumental failure, largely I believe, because of persistent political interference. This new one, at least the reported lead directors, is set up for a similar potential failure.

Comment 2

Old Board

  • Dr. Justin Robinson, Chairman
  • Mr. Wismar Greaves, Deputy Chairman
  • Mr. Martin DaSilva, Member
  • Mr. Ian Gooding-Edghill, representative of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation
  • Mr. Colin Jordan, representative of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association
  • Mr. Victor Felix, Chief Labour Officer (Ag.)
  • Ms. Avonda Carrington, nominee of the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs
  • Ms. Roslyn Smith, General Secretary, National Union of Public Workers
  • Ms. Toni Moore, General Secretary, Barbados Workers’ Union

Sooooo, The former BHT rep Jordan, is now the Minister in Charge
The former BEC rep Gooding-Edehill, (successful BLP candidate in 2018 election) is now Chairman. Persaud replaces Greaves as Deputy, Lawyer Haynes replaces DaSilva as member.and we await the other 6 who are nominees as shown above.

Remind me….is this the Board of Barbados Hotel and Tourism or the NIS?

Shows the PM is clearly NOT SERIOUS about having the NIS as anything but a continued long arm of the MoF. Pure patronage. After 12 long years of NO Annual Reports and this is the best she can do?

Government’s restructure program requires holders of government debt to agree to new terms and brings into sharp focus the critical role of the National Insurance Scheme, and of interest, its investment policy executed under successive governments.

The NIS is the largest holder of government paper and was mandated by the last government to buy what has translated to be ‘high risk’ government paper. The mismanagement of the fund threatens first to disrupt the peace of mind of our senior citizens who have done what was asked of them in the productive years.

A badly managed NIS threatens the social stability of Barbados.

Has the NIS been true to its tagline- its your lifeline?

The blogmaster has posted many NIS related items in the last decade. Sadly, there has not been any improvement in the perception of the BU household regarding how the fund is managed. Such a position is supported by the most recent 15th NIS Actuarial Review of the National Insurance Fund, Published, AND, the inability of NIS Boards to lay up to date audited financials in parliament for over a decade.

Here is the real issue for the blogmaster.

Successive NIS Boards appointed by DLP and BLP governments will continue to influence investment decisions because it is seen as a ‘lender of last resort’. A new approach would have seen the Mia Mottley government implementing measures to ensure the NIS is ring-fenced from political interference.

The blogmaster has to agree with comments that question the composition of the current NIS Board. It is evident there is no cataclysmic shift in the government’s approach.


NIS Actuarial Review 2011 – National Discussion Required

The tagline of the National Insurance Scheme is ‘more than a contribution its your life line’. Regrettably the vast majority of Barbadians become concerned about the functioning of the NIS […] Continue reading

National Insurance Scheme Lends Transport Board 3.577 Million Dollars

Submitted by Anthony Davis

Dr. Justin Robinson, Chairman, National Insurance Scheme

Dr. Justin Robinson, Chairman, National Insurance Scheme

DISMISSED TRANSPORT BOARD WORKERS are getting every cent of their long overdue severance pay, thanks to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler. Very reliable sources have revealed that the cash-strapped statutory corporation that provides island wide public transport services had, through the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW), sought the assistance of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to meet its obligations to retrenched workers. As a result, yesterday former worker Mark Watson collected his cheque for more than $71,000 and told the DAILY NATION he was headed to the credit union to pay off his mortgage. “The DAILY NATION also learnt that the Freundel Stuart Cabinet was also told: ‘A decision was taken that the Transport Board should approach the National Insurance Board for a loan in the sum of $3,577,000 to settle the outstanding severance payments due to workers. The National Insurance Board, at its meeting on September 2, 2014, considered and approved the loan request with the following conditions precedent to disbursement. . .”

Once again the Minister of Finance, with the help of his man at the head of the NIS Funds, is plundering those funds. I am sure that the fired workers are happy to receive their money so that they can pay their bills, and look after their families otherwise. However, I fear that this decision will come back to haunt them as the NIS funds are being depleted – not only to pay them, but to pour millions of dollars into the ruins of the “soon-to-start” “All Seasons” and other projects!

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Concern About the National Insurance Scheme

Submitted by Anthony Davis

Dr. Justin Robinson, Chairman of National Insurance Board

Dr. Justin Robinson, Chairman of National Insurance Board

The National Insurance Scheme is backlogged with sickness benefit claims. Barbados Today has learned that the backlog is resulting in scores of individuals waiting to receive their sickness benefit payments, some as far back as November. And while it is not clear how much longer those persons will have to wait, it is at this time uncertain if unemployment benefits will also be affected by this wait. NIS PILE UP BACKLOG OF SICKNESS BENEFITS CLAIMS CAUSED BY ‘TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES’ on the back page of “Barbados Today” dated 03 January

My, my, my! Now we have gremlins running about the NIS Department. I wonder how come. I hope that it is not contagious. Can it get any worse?

We have to keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t spread to other departments. Are there really “technical difficulties” being experienced by the department, or they of a pillaging kind? Why did Mrs. Hunt have to pass the buck to the marketing and research department? I would not have thought that such problems would come under the jurisdiction of that department. Is there no specific IT Department? Was she too busy, or was she afraid that Mr. Maddens questions could be too difficult to answer, and therefore evoke one that could be embarrassing to the Government? Was there a directive not to talk to the press on this issue because the Minister of Finance does not have an answer yet? Could it be that the answer is a million-dollar one?

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The Wolf is at the Door

Walter Blackman

Walter Blackman

When judged against the harsh background of adversarial politics, only two prime ministers of Barbados (who led the country for 7 years or more) can lay claim to being able to escape the clutches of the IMF for the entire period of their rule – Errol Barrow and Owen Arthur.

Say whatever you will, it is an undeniable fact that Barrow and Arthur were able to utilize whatever resources they had available at their disposal without plunging the Barbadian economy into disequilibrium. This achievement in itself represents a public demonstration of their political and economic skills. One was from the DLP, and the other is from the BLP, but we must commend and applaud both of them equally for distinguishing themselves in this regard.

Borrowing, taxation, and easily accessible NIS funds were the main resources available to Barrow, Arthur, and all Ministers of Finance. Naturally these resources varied in amount as administrations came and went.

By the time the David Thompson administration assumed office in early 2008, the world had changed drastically. Volatility and uncertainty had become so widespread that the Governor of the Central Bank informed and warned all Barbadians that the macroeconomic models used to analyze and predict outcomes under the “old” economic order, were no longer applicable.

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NIS Pension Looms Large

Click image to access presentation in PDF

The presentation maybe of interest if we consider the importance of the NIS Scheme’s contribution  to supplementing retirement income.  BU continues to be optimistic that full transparency will engulf the management of the fund to ensure that one day coming soon the audited financials of the NIS Scheme will be made public to encourage the rigour of public scrutiny. It must be part of the checks and balances to encourage resilience and integrity to our most important fund.