Fed up with complaints from the public about the time-consuming service at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Minister of Finance Winston Jordan has charged the staff to change their attitudes.
“I’m imploring you again. I want this institution to shine as a bright red penny. I need your help. I don’t need anybody to [be] washing their mouth anymore on the NIS, so the staff attitude has to change in dealing with the public,” Jordan told attendees at an event on Wednesday to mark the institution’s 50th anniversary.
Persons have complained, among other things, that benefit claims, for example, can sometimes take as long as six months to be processed at the organisation.
Jordan said that he is sometimes overwhelmed at the complaints received about service at the NIS and he has to be constantly calling General Manager Holly Greaves to address issues that other staff should be able to address. “You have to make the people feel that they are wanted, feel that they are a part of the organisation and their hard-earned money is keeping us in the business,” he said.
The Finance Minister, who is charged with oversight of the social welfare scheme, said that the NIS is among the three agencies that are bemoaned most by the public. The Guyana Revenue Authority and the Guyana Post Office Corporation were identified as the other two. He said evidence of this was that at all of government’s outreaches, the NIS booth “would have the second [largest] crowd” after the Central Housing and Planning Authority. “Let us learn from that and see where we can improve this,” he said.
Moving to more technologically advanced systems, Jordan believes, could cut waiting times by a significant per cent but he said that the staff must do its part.
“Part of the strategic plan I am asking for will necessarily mean a reorganisation of the staffing and divisions in the NIS. In some way, you are still organised for cards and as you say, you are highly computerised but I don’t see the evidence of that. You are still cards and notebooks and so on. So let us give meaning to it in NIS and let it work. Because some of these things go on and on. Let us sign the life certificates and so online. Put more things online. Don’t have people coming in here all the time,” he emphasised.
“People go, ‘Oh, the old people want come because they see more old people’, but it is not an old people place. We are a service-oriented institution and if we are going to [be] bringing information technology, let it work. Let it work and get rid of the card and paper-based system you had. The two can’t go together,” he said.
Jordan assured workers that with the implementation of technology, their job security will be assured as persons will have to be in front of the machines and computers. It is why, he said, that they should begin training for the changes. “The only fear is change but change we must. Start retraining for the new NIS. NIS next 50 [years] won’t look anything like now. Get rid of the card and paper-based system. In this strategic plan, you have to take word of information technology,” he said.
“Stop pretending that 15 people have to sign off on this one transaction before it [is] approved. This is not only a problem at NIS. I have the same problem. I am desperately trying to find out why a transaction from the initiation to the end must take all these steps. Nobody can give me a credible answer of why somebody have to write up the voucher up to here, and then another person here and then somebody with a green ink pen and somebody with a red…,” he added.
Meanwhile, General Manager Greaves reported that problems relating to poor customer service and the extensive time taken to resolve customer issues has led to public distrust and poor publicity for the NIS.
In an effort to alleviate these problems and deliver convenience to contributors, at the beginning of 2019, the scheme began to open its main offices from 6am until the last person leaves during pensions and contributions weeks.
“Worthy of mention is that during the reporting period, the scheme partnered with other government agencies for outreaches in Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Fort Wellington, Leonora, Essequibo, Bartica, Mahdia and Mabaruma, where numerous queries and advice were sought and were dealt with to the satisfaction of the entitled customers. Additionally, the NIS held outreaches at the Giftland Mall, at NIS’s Head Office Brickdam, Mon Repos Market, Parika Market and at Republic Bank’s car park located in Main Street. As a result of these outreaches, 1,307 queries were addressed,” she related.
“In an effort to deliver convenience to our contributors, the scheme in 2019 benefited from continuous upgrades of the organisation’s core information technology framework and software. These efforts have and will continue to positively impact the organisation’s overall efficiency. The web application has been upgraded to display details relating to claims. Contributors can now see the status of a claim by logging into their NIS account. With the continued expansion of the web application, another small but powerful addition to the online application is the pension calculator. This tool examines the contributor’s most recent insurable wage and their contributions and makes a projection as to what their pension would be if they continued at that insurable wage,” she added.
Greaves said that contributors registered with the NIS website are also able to view a list of all the vouchers issued to them during the last year. The individuals are able to view the claim type, payment amount and the date of payment.
In addition, contributors can view the full payment history of their employers by selecting the employer’s name when viewing their contributions online. This tool allows the employee to assist the NIS in monitoring their employer for any discrepancies, such as the number of employees paid for against the number on the actual worksite. In addition, each employee can validate that their contributions are being properly paid up.
Highlighting the technology mentioned by Jordan, the NIS General Manager informed that from June 15, 2019, in collaboration with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph company, self-employed contributors were able to pay contributions via GTT Mobile Money.
“For the self-employed persons, their time has a money value. Therefore, the introduction of this service will limit the time they have to take to remit contributions. Instead of visiting the NIS office in order to remit contributions, individuals can make their payments from a mobile device, internet enabled device and any mobile money location. So far, 56 self-employed [persons] were registered and contributions of $692,637 were collected,” she said.
But compliance remains one of the most challenging and even contentious issues for the NIS, according to Greaves.
“This year saw an increase in the monitoring and enforcement aspects of compliance with the laws and regulations governing the scheme. As such, several campaigns were launched targeting the inactive or dormant employers, that is, those who are still in business but fail to remit contributions to the scheme and these efforts are bearing fruit. We do encourage all the delinquents to take the opportunity to early, voluntarily, regularise their situations,” she said.
“We are still challenged by many employers who seek to relinquish their responsibilities to those they employ by giving them contracts that instruct that the employees are themselves responsible for the paying of contributions to NIS and also by having some employees collude with them to defraud the fund. This practice must cease. The scheme also benefited from collaborative initiatives with the Guyana Forestry Commission, [the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission] and data sharing with Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” she added
At the end of August 2019, the arrears to the organisation amounted to approximately $2.3 billion and this was owed by the government, public entities, private entities and the self-employed.
During last year, management had established a Debt Manage-ment Department which is now fully staffed and it is tasked, among others, with collecting arrears which are vital for the financial sustainability of the NIS.
Greaves said that delays in receiving current contributions when due, do have an effect on financial sustainability, hence management is required to take prompt action accordingly.
Source: Stabroek News.