Guyana Chronicle:– THE 30th Meeting of the Heads of CARICOM Social Security Organisations opened on Tuesday at the Guyana Marriott, with a call from Minister of Education, Dr. Nicolette Henry, for Social Security Schemes to remain relevant by modernising their operations to increase their efficiencies.
Minister Henry delivered the keynote address on behalf of President David Granger, in the presence of CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque; General Manager of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Holly Greaves, and NIS Board Chairman, John Seeram. Director of the Inter-American Centre for Social Security Studies, Reginald Thomas; and Finance Secretary of the Ministry Finance, Michael Joseph, were among the other officials present, while Secretary-General of the International Social Security Association, Marcelo Caetano, joined virtually.
This meeting here in Georgetown is happening at a time when Social Security schemes in the Region are being asked to modernise and reform their focus, increase operational efficiency and remain relevant. And so I want to keep my remarks in the context of these three important pillars for the sustainability of Social Security systems in the Region.
Minister Henry said while most territories are focusing on their programme’s long-term financing gaps, it’s important to incorporate into those plans technologies that would boost the efficiencies of their operations, thereby allowing them to remain relevant.
“Let me advise that in modernising the system we also have to take into account the evolving social, economic, and demographic circumstances, such as the issues of high unemployment in some of the member states. Increased life expectancy is also a variable in this equation, along with measured wage growth. These trends have certainly undermined the support that social security offers for caregivers, widows, and the elderly,” Dr. Henry explained. It was noted that modernising social security requires strong leadership and a commitment on the part of policymakers.
She said improving the schemes operational efficiencies is a task much lower than a hanging fruit, noting that such a move can improve schemes’ effectiveness in service provision. “It is no secret that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become increasingly useful for the delivery of services around the world. As technology advances and more efficient communications solutions are introduced to the labour force, institutions have to find ways and means to increase their productivity and increase clients and, employees satisfaction,” Dr. Henry explained.
Here in Guyana, she said the NIS, the host of the conference, has made several technological advancements in the delivery of its service. NIS now has electronic schedule submission – which allows employers to submit their information electronically, online checking of contribution record and digital access to information by employers on contribution payment history, projected pension calculator and live chat. There are also e-Appointments and electronic services to third parties.
Such steps, she emphasised, are necessary to remain relevant in the age of technology.
“In concluding, I have to say that while social security gaps obviously remain in the Region, there is definitely a strong rationale for all stakeholders to step up to the challenge and close the gaps. Investing in sustainable social security strategies is good for our people, our planet, our prosperity and our survival as a Region,” the Education Minister told the officials present.
The CARICOM Secretary-General, in his address, said there is no doubt about social security’s fundamental value in maintaining a significant degree of stability within the society.
Ambassador La Rocque noted that there are significant challenges that ought to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of Social Security Schemes to allow for the sustainability of social security funding.
He said too, that while persons are living longer, they are not eating healthier, noting that the prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) has had an effect on social security systems.
The meeting, he posited, creates a platform for the Heads of the Social Security Organisations to develop solutions to address the challenges currently being faced by Social Security Schemes.
The Director of the Inter-American Centre for Social Security Studies, said the conference was being held at a time when there are there are new forms of work resulting in many changes in the labour market.
Like Ambassador La Rocque, Thomas said the conference is being held at a time when the population across the Region is living longer, but is failing to eat healthier. “We are meeting at a time when fertility is declining. Gone are the days when women would have five and seven children, and the participation rate of women in the labour force is a reality,” Thomas said as he painted a vivid picture of the regional situation.
Due to these changes and developments, there is a greater demand for social security and social protection, and as the Education Minister implored, Thomas said it is important to be proactive and responsive in addressing the rising demands. Social Security Organisations, he emphasised become more relevant.
NIS Board Chairman used the platform to renew calls for the establishment of a Regional Secretariat, noting that it has now become a necessity. “It is long overdue and intensive planning should be done early in establishing this entity.
National insurance is a multimillion dollar business turnover, hence the need for this secretariat,” Seeram explained.
When established, he said the secretariat should have a Research and Development Unit for the formation of best practices in the administration of Social Security Services. Seeram also made a pitch for increased training.
During the conference which will continue throughout the week, discussions will be based on the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and matters related to social security administration in the Region.
The CARICOM Agreement on Social Security was signed here in Georgetown, on 1 March 1996.