By Carlena Knight
The Director of the Social Security Scheme is calling on the public, more so politicians, to cease and desist from turning the ongoing dilemma facing the Scheme into a continuous political issue.
David Matthias while speaking on the Observer Am show on Monday specifically referred to recent comments made by a member of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Damani Tabor on the performance of a government bond instituted by the former UPP administration, and the late payments to pensioners.
Matthias said that the issue of late payments is “not a partisan issue” but the “truest national issue that faces Antigua and Barbuda today” and suggested that instead of the political parties using the Social Security Scheme as a political talk shop, they should all be collectively working together along with the Scheme to find solutions for these problems.
“This is something that I have been on record since 2009 saying. This is not about politics, this is not about political parties, this is about protecting a vital resource for the people, and difficult decisions are going to have to be made, but I believe that the nature and resilience of the Antiguan and Barbudan people, this is something that we will overcome and what we will see is a Social Security system that is there providing for the people,” Matthias said.
“It requires the concerted efforts of the ABLP, the UPP, the DNA; we all have to rectify that Social Security’s success is our nation’s success.,” he added.
He also gave his and his staff’s commitment to continuing to work towards rectifying the problem and ensuring that the matter is resolved.
Last Friday, Tabor asserted that the ruling party has refused to use the bond payment mechanism to provide Social Security with the cash flow needed to meet its obligation to pensioners and short term beneficiaries, and that Matthias failed to provide clarity when he was asked about the performance of the bond last week.
However, Matthias rebutted those assertions yesterday, stating that he was in no way shirking his responsibility to the public, but additional details on the matter could not be given, as they would have been premature.
He added that the government has also paid lump sums into the scheme to ensure that it is able to meet its obligation to the public.
Matthias disclosed that the statutory corporation is currently in talks with the government as it seeks to monetise the bonds to ensure they are in a position to increase its cash flow to handle its affairs on a monthly basis.
Matthias accepted that there are times when he must take blame for the delay of payments but he did mention that he will shed light on any misconceptions being pushed in the public domain, but he has no issue in addressing any concerns that persons may have as it is his aim to operate the Scheme in the most transparent way as possible.
Meanwhile, the payments process seems to be running smoothly since its previous delays which saw payments backed up to April.
Matthias revealed that payments for May have begun and they are in fact hoping to begin the process for the month of June sometime this week.
“We are fully dispensed with the month April. We have started paying the month of May and we expect to conclude paying sometime this week such that we can position ourselves to begin to make payments for June,” Matthias explained.
A system failure was partly responsible for the payments being backed up to April.
The system failure resulted in Social Security being as much as six months behind in processing claims and although there has been some improvement compared to the months prior due to better planning, Matthias admitted that more must be done to ensure processes run smoothly.
“It is something I think the senator alluded to as well, in his statement, that we are behind when it comes to short term benefits. That is death benefits, sickness and maternity. Regrettably, this is the reality because we are still not collecting sufficiently to discharge that full liability throughout the period,” he added.
In February, the government said it was hopeful that a boost in economic activity would eliminate the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on contributions.
However, four months on, Matthias said that the remittances flowing to Social Security are still not enough.