Tue | Apr 24, 2018

Cedric Stephens | Demand for accountability should extend to NIS

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:03 AM
Director of the National Insurance Scheme, Portia Magnus.

Are demands for the scalps of the Minister of national security and the commissioner of police due to the rising murder rate warranted?

I doubt it. Even though many believe that a change in leadership is the right response to the crisis, I am not certain that it will produce the solution we all want. A careful review of the past crime management and prevention strategies and tactics and why they have failed is also necessary.

Gordon Robinson's column "Shouldn't we do unto others?" last Wednesday strengthens my opinion.

The main tools that Mr Robinson uses in his search for the truth are "relentless and unapologetic ... analysis beyond (the) superficial; assessment based on clear thinking". This is also a model for problem solving.

Looking behind the raw data of the number of murders should be part of any thoughtful analysis of crime. University of the West Indies' Annie Paul provided a good example.

On the same page on which Mr Robinson's column appeared, Ms Paul disclosed some important facts that the out-with-Montaque-Quallo crowd overlooks. The source: this newspaper's archives.

The "recruitment and retaining of policemen and women has been a persistent problem long before Independence". In 2016, for example, Ms Paul writes the staff size was 20.3 per cent below what was ideal for the police force. Low salaries were the cause.

It would have interesting to have compared how much the average police person earned versus his counterpart in the Jamaica Defence Force and the rate of staff turnover in that institution with the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The image, efficiency, and effectiveness of the former has consistently surpassed the latter in the minds of most persons.

 

INCREASED SCRUTINY

 

Careful analysis should be starting point of problem solving. Other public bodies should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the police force. The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is one example. It is a division of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS).

The ministry's website

says: "NIS is a compulsory contributory-funded social security scheme. It offers financial protection to the worker and his family against loss of income arising from injury on the job, incapacity, retirement, and death of the insured."

Money in the fund belongs to thousands of contributors employers and employees. The Ministry of Labour is the guardian of the funds. Unlike the management of the National Housing Trust, which recognises its fiduciary duties a phrase lawyers use to describe the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary the Ministry of Labour behaves like it owns the funds.

How institutions such as the Ministry of Labour, NHT, private or public companies like insurance companies behave and react to complaints and criticism provides clues about the things that their leaders deem unimportant or important, the culture and practices more than the fancy words used in mission statements. That statement is based on my observations and experiences, research, analysis, and careful evaluation and interactions with NHT and the NIS. Here are a few examples.

 

ARTICLE IGNORED

 

My column of April 9, 2017, "National Insurance shortcomings" criticised NIS managers for their failure to "address basic customer-service issues and disseminate important information about the performance of the fund" to contributors. NIS has over 50 years of experience of doing its job. MLSS ignored the article even though it was accompanied by a five-column-wide photograph with ministry signage. Why?

On August 20, 2017, I wrote another column that was critical of the housing finance agency. Its headline: "NHT not living up fully to 'we care' slogan". Before the end of the next day, I received a written response from the Trust. They challenged my opinion. I had a similar experience a few years earlier. Why?

I paid a visit to NIS's Ripon Road office recently. There were scores of persons in the lobby. A senior citizen was in the reception line ahead of me. He was there to conduct business. The receptionist handed him a form to fill out and return. It was clear to me from his reaction that he could not read. Shouldn't management have developed a process for dealing with situations like these?

Contrast that senior citizen's NIS experience with someone who wanted to obtain a birth certificate, apply for a passport, or initiate the process to get on NHT refund or apply for benefits from the contributory social security scheme operated by the Ministry of Labour. While other government agencies have started plans to improve customer experiences, MLSS seems to be stuck in the dark ages. Why? Are not the citizens who interact with MLSS important?

If the argument of those in the out-with-Montaque-Quallo crowd is correct, shouldn't the effectiveness of the political and administrative heads of MLSS also be asked to account for their stewardship? Doesn't Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee have a role to play?

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com