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NIS Director Urges Employers to Take Insurance Seriously

Alaina Hull

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Insurance schemes for employees are meant to protect their interest in times of emergency or upon their retirement. The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in Jamaica is also framed on those lines. The employee makes a small contribution every week out of his/her earnings and the employers deposit an equal amount as their contribution. The challenge for NIS, however, has been that the levels of premium collected through this scheme is not sufficient to sustain the fund (the National Insurance Fund) in the long run. The reforms to correct the situation have been set in motion.

Small but Gradual Increases in Contributions

Beginning January this calendar year, NIS fixed the weekly contribution at $150, up from $100 previously. It will then be increased to $200 per week, come January 2020. Simultaneously, the rate of contribution will also keep going up in stages. The previous 5% had being enhanced to 5.5% with effect from April 2019 and will go up to 6% effective April 2020. One more increase will occur in 2021 April, when the weekly contribution will be taken to $300 retaining the 6% rate as it is.

These changes mean the employer will bear 2.75% (out of 5.5%) or 3% (out of 6%) respectively. There is a wage ceiling for fixing the insurable amount as well. This too is being enhanced from 2021 onwards at $3 million.

All these are applicable to regular employees in any organisation. Those who are self-employed will have to bear the full amount of 5.5% or 6% as the case may be.

Employers Not Cooperative

While all these steps have been taken by the NIS in consultation with the stakeholders and approval from the Cabinet, there is an X factor in all this. The routing of these contributions is via employers. They deduct the amount the employee has to pay and then they are expected to add their component and deposit the full amount with the NIS. According to the Director of the NIS, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Portia Magnus, many employers default on this payment, putting the NIS and the employees in deep trouble. At present, there is no automatic mechanism that can detect the defaulting employers on a monthly basis and take action, though the NIS imposes a penalty of 20% on the amounts due and not paid. There have even been cases of the employers vanishing from their address found in the records.

This situation needs to be corrected and employers should take the issue seriously since it involves the future of their employees.

The commitment to deliver knowledge and information to the world is a duty that one should not take lightly; it is one that I do not take lightly. Equipped with 10 years of professional writing experience, and even more so of "scribbling in a journal", I aim to provide in-depth, accurate and expeditious news and information. "Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air."- Henry Anatole Grunwald alaina@zlotonews.com

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CMU Contract Puzzle Baffles PAAC

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The Chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) describes the CMU Contract controversy as a “messy affair.”  Revelations on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, outlines a troubling scenario surrounding the contracts issued to a US-based Jamaican consultant. The PAAC was shocked and amazed that the CMU paid Doreen Miller, a third party, just under J$4.0 million for work Gail Campbell Dunwell, the consultant, did.

A Little Under J$4.0 Paid to “Household Helper”

The amazing revelation by Professor Fritz Pinnock, head of the CMU, was that Miller was not an integral figure in the work performed by the consultant. Rather, the PAAC confirmed that she was the household help to the former Minister of Education, Youth, and Information (MOEYI) Ruel Reid. That the amount involved is a little under J$4.0 million is stunning enough. The shocker, however, was that the CMU had already paid the bulk of the contract to Campbell Dunwell; just a year inside her two-year contract.

As the CMU President explains it, the entity awarded Gail Campbell Dunwell a two-year contract valuing J$20.0 million. This contract is to raise funds from international institutions. By the end of the first year of her contract, however, Campbell Dunwell received just under J$15.0 million.

Three-Quarters of Two-Year Contract Sum Paid within One Year

Documents submitted to the PAAC show that Campbell Dunwell’s contract took effect on January 12, 2018. Yet, a mere nine days after contract signature, the consultant presented her first invoice of J$396,500 (US$3,050). Alarmingly, by February 25 of the same year, the consultant had pulled in J$11.0 million or US$86,188 for services rendered. Furthermore, the significant portion of this amount (J$9.1 million or US$70,000) was paid on six invoices all dated February 20, 2018. Her final invoice dated December 4, 2018, valued J$188,240 or US$1,448.

Professor Pinnock sought to explain that many of the projects for which the CMU paid the consultant started in 2017. Furthermore, these pre-existing projects account for the huge payments that CMU within mere months after the contract became effective.

“Well, the whole arrangement, initially, we were looking for a total of US$2 million … in grant funding, etc, etc. But when you write grant funding, you load up in the earlier part of the agreement, but the results would come a year, year and a half later,” Pinnock said.

According to the CMU president, the entity would not have entered into that agreement until it is sure that funds would have started to come into its coffers. “To get grant funding, you have to get into people’s budget, so those would start from the previous year,” he explained.

Consultant Raised Money for CMU

According to Pinnock, the CMU reaped a total of US$374,170 (around J$49.0 million) in grants and donations through the consultant’s efforts.  Pinnock sought to explain that the contract sum of US$114,000 was the maximum amount for the life of the contract to the consultant. When pressed by the PAAC Acting Chairman Mickael Phillips whether he would have paid the total amount of the contract within the first year, Pinnock responded in the affirmative. However, Pinnock’s response did not sit well with Phillips.

Another Contract with the Education Ministry

Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry, Dr. Grace McLean revealed that Gail Campbell Dunwell also had a contract with that Ministry. The contract, valued at J$3.5 million per annum, was for consultancy work for the National Education Trust (NET). The Permanent Secretary, however, told the PAAC that the Ministry suspended the contract with NET. This suspension was pending legal advice which the ministry is awaiting from the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Surprise Birthday Party Spending

The Education Ministry’s Permanent Secretary also came under fire for revelations that the Ministry hosted a surprise birthday party for the CMU president in 2018. However, Dr. McLean denied that the Ministry normally hosts surprise parties for heads of agencies and departments. She also denied that the Ministry of Education organised and hosted that party. But, Phillips quoted an email that showed that the Education Ministry was a party to the event.

Obstructing FID Investigations?

In other developments, the PAAC expressed alarm that the CMU had sought to obstruct the investigations of the Financial Investigation Division (FID) by engaging an attorney at law to block the delivery of documents requested. But the CMU head refuted that suggestion. He indicated that the CMU is complying with the FID’s request. The institution was only disputing the manner in which FID made its request.

Send Pinnock on Leave

Citing the messy affair and an apparent “free for all” that is taking place at the CMU, the PAAC Chair recommended that the CMU head and other senior officers be sent on leave. This leave should be taken pending the outcome of investigations into the CMU operations.

What next for the CMU affair? One can only wait and see.

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Richard Byles is New BOJ Governor

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The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) has a new governor. He is Richard Byles, a 40-year business and finance veteran. The announcement of his appointment came on Thursday, June 13 from the Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr. the Hon. Nigel Clarke.

Mr. Byles will take up office on August 19, 2019. He will succeed the current BOJ Governor, Brian Wynter.

Byles – A Qualified, Experienced and Credible Leader

The Finance Minister in his announcement outlined the process used to search for a suitable candidate to replace Brian Wynter as BOJ Governor. The search started in January 2019 with the appointment of a Search Committee chaired by Mr. David Marston. The process of recruiting Mr. Byles was described as “open and transparent”.

“I’m very pleased that the search process has yielded an eminently qualified, experienced and credible leader in Mr. Richard Byles…” the Finance Minister said.

The Finance Minister also expressed confidence that Mr. Byles will bring a focused, principled and disciplined leadership to his role as BOJ Governor.

Richard Byles’ 40-year Career

Indeed, Richard Byles is an accomplished corporate leader whose career in business and finance spans forty years. Since 1988, Byles was well-known as the Managing Director of Pan Caribbean Merchant Bank, a post he held for four years. In 1991, Byles was appointed to lead the Pan Jamaican  Investment Trust Limited (Pan Jam) as its CEO. During his tenure which lasted thirteen years, the Pan Jam Group grew into a diversified conglomerate.

Later, in 2004 Richard Byles joined Sagicor Jamaica Life Limited as CEO. During his time with Sagicor Jamaica (which was formerly Life of Jamaica (LOJ) Limited), the entity grew through a series of acquisitions to become an insurance and banking giant. Thirteen years later, in 2017, Byles retired from the Sagicor Group but was appointed the group’s non-executive Chairman.

Richard Byles has held other significant corporate roles. He was the Chairman of Red Stripe, as well as non-executive Director in various other entities. Previously, Byles was appointed a Co-Chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) which has monitoring responsibility for Jamaica’s economic progress under the IMF’s 3-year Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement (SBA).

The new BOJ Governor holds a BSc. in Economics from the University of the West Indies (UWI). He also holds a BSc. in Economics and an MSc in National Development both from the University of Bradford, England.

During the transition period, a subcommittee at BOJ, led by Karen Chin Quee Akin, its General Counsel will assist Mr. Byles.

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JPS Pressing on the Accelerator for EV Charging Stations

Alaina Hull

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If you have been planning to buy an electric vehicle or EV as it is called, now may be the right time. The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is rolling out charging stations for EVs all over the island. JPS is responding to the increase in the number of EVs as more and more electric and hybrid vehicles are being imported into the country. The government seems to be taking its commitment to bring down the greenhouse gas emissions seriously and it has spurred the JPS into action.

A Charging Station Every 30 Kilometres

The first one off the block may be at the AC Hotel by Marriott in New Kingston. JPS has entered into an arrangement with the hotel’s owners who also own a BMW dealership adjacent to the hotel. Under the arrangement, the hotel which is set to be opened soon will allot the space to JPS to set up the EV charging station. The hotel may permit the owners of BMW cars sold by their dealership to use the charging station as well.

Elsewhere, JPS has to scout for partners who can offer the real estate for the charging stations but the precise terms under which these will be operated are not clear yet. Either there will be a fixed rental or just a cut from the charges collected from the car owners or even a combination of both. JPS may come out with the details in due course. Equally unclear is the actual number of fully electric or partially electric or hybrid cars in Jamaica.

Last Quarter the Targeted Date to Start Operations

As it stands, these are the plans JPS may be having on its agenda. The actual setting up of the stations and opening for public use are expected only during the last quarter of this calendar year. As indicated there will be one charging station every 30 kilometres and the entire work may get completed by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

The other aspect the vehicle owners will be keen to know is the kind of charges they will be asked to pay to get their cars charged. The only term used by JPS is that they will be ‘competitive’. The details of these will also be shared only towards the end of 2019.

The government of Jamaica may have to focus on improving the policy framework to be put in place for the importation of the electric vehicles and the import duty structure that will encourage the buyers to go in for these cars in preference to the ones using fossil fuels.

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