Board of Directors of the National Insurance Scheme
Management and Staff of the National Insurance Scheme
Representatives of the Media
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to join you for the unveiling of this Commemorative Stamp. This commemorative stamp is a postage stamp, which is being issued to honor the 50th Anniversary of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). Fifty years of service to the Guyanese citizens is indeed a significant milestone that is worth observing and remembering in a symbolic way. And what better reminder than this stamp! Congratulations are extended to the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of the National Insurance Scheme.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, your golden anniversary is worth celebrating. as the organization, over the years, has metamorphosed from the provision of basic benefits at a central location in Georgetown, to an expanded coverage for employed and self-employed contributors at locations across Guyana. Modern technology has also transformed the way you have been doing business, as compliance and reporting can be done via the internet and within a much shorter timeframe.
Mr. Chairman, last year, during my address to the staff on the Scheme’s 49th Anniversary, I briefly traced the origin of the NIS. As I recalled, the idea of establishing the National Insurance Scheme was conceived by the late Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, who, at that time, was Prime Minister of Guyana and Founder-Leader of the People’s National Congress. He would later go on to become the first Executive President of the country. Back in 1969, that political party held a majority government and the Peoples Progressive Party was in opposition. Mr. Chairman, I recall this tiny, but important, bit of our history because the establishment of the National Insurance Scheme was done against the backdrop of strong opposition by the PPP.
Today, I shudder to think how the absence of a National Insurance Scheme would have impacted the standard of living of our retirees and senior citizens, who are now recipients of old age pensions and other benefits; and the employed and self- employed individuals who are still in the work force but who access various benefits of the Scheme, such as sickness, maternity and spectacles. The National Insurance Scheme, having evolved and in spite of its challenges, is a living testimony of the foresight and wisdom of the PNC and the ability of the Government that it led to make wise policy decisions that are beneficial to Guyanese citizens. It is apposite to note that 50 years later, the PNC is the major partner in the Coalition Government that is transforming the country, from coastland to hinterland, improving equity in the allocation and distribution of the country’s resources, and calmly guiding the shape of state in this tense period leading up to the General and Regional Elections. We shall overcome.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our Government is acutely aware that access to social security is pivotal to the economic and social well-being of Guyanese; it is a fundamental human right enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The establishment of the National Insurance Scheme a mere three years after Guyana gained political independence from the Britain, in May 1966, was a landmark achievement. I want to assure you that our Government will continue to make every effort to keep the National Insurance Scheme relevant and viable, so that Guyanese can continue to enjoy bigger and better benefits.
As the Minister of Finance, with responsibility for general oversight and policy guidance to the National Insurance Scheme, I am aware of some of the challenges that the organization faces, in its efforts to maintain financial sustainability. Some of these challenges are similar to those faced by other National Insurance Schemes in the region. This fact was well documented in a 2016 IMF study that was conducted on Social Security Schemes in the Caribbean. Among the findings were that an aging population, slow economic growth and high unemployment were major contributors to the high actuarial deficit that social security schemes in the Caribbean faced. The report recommended a range of reform measures to urgently reverse the trend.
But let me hasten to say that I am not suggesting that all the reform measures proposed by the IMF are suitable for our country. Clearly, some of them can have a negative impact on the economic and financial position of eligible contributors and beneficiaries. Be that as it may, I enjoin the Board of Directors and Management to urgently review the Scheme’s sustainability plan and come up with country-specific solutions to address these challenges. I can assure you of our Government’s continued support, so tangibly exemplified by the issuance of debentures to offset the loss that emanated from the reckless CLICO investment.
Your 50th anniversary comes at an historic period in Guyana. The arrival of the Floating Production Storage and Offloading Facility (FPSO), of which I had the pleasure of visiting in the company of the First Lady, has brought us closer to that reality. We are all anxiously awaiting the arrival of first oil. The developments in the oil sector have made Guyana prominent on the world map, and the recent discoveries of Exxon+14 and Tullow+2, just a few days ago, has catapulted our country among the world’s top oil producing nations per capita.
These developments will have implications for the performance of the National Insurance Scheme. Oil production will propel significant economic growth in Guyana. Preliminary estimates for real growth in 2020 and 2021 are 33.5 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively. These lofty growth rates would leave behind the single digit rates achieved in the post-Independence period. There is no doubt that these impressive growth rates will translate into more contributions remitted to the NIS.
Oil production will also create employment opportunities at all levels of the supply chain. It is for you, Board of Directors, Management and Staff, to the seize the moment (carpe diem) to expand the Scheme’s revenue base and enhance your financial position. You must continue to build capacity and put the necessary institutional measures in place to ensure that all employers, employees and self-employed individuals are registered with the Scheme and their contributions remitted in a timely manner.
You have come a far way; you reached another milepost. There is more work to be done.
And now it is my distinct pleasure to unveil this commemorative stamp.