By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis has criticised the government for the month-long delays in National Insurance Board payments, claiming that the government’s failure to implement a back-up system at NIB has resulted in Bahamians “being cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
Dr Minnis, in a statement released on Saturday, said the government’s decision to implement the NIB’s new $14m V3 administration system without ensuring that a back-up system was in place demonstrates a “major failure in leadership in the PLP government.”
The former minister of health questioned how officials in the Christie administration plan to remain the government “when they cannot even get the Bahamian people that need it the most their NIB cheques.”
Dr Minnis also criticised Prime Minister Perry Christie for failing to address the issue, charging that the nation’s leader ought to address the matter right away and “not when it is convenient for the prime minister.”
Dr Minnis’ statement came almost a month after NIB officials confirmed that delays in processing claims for both short-term and long-term benefits, as well as challenges in the transition process from the old IT platform to the new V3 system continue to persist.
Last month, NIB Director Rowena Bethel said the processing for short-term benefit payments is unlikely to be brought within board norms until mid-July, while problems with long-term benefit payments are expected to be resolved by the end of August.
About a week after her statements, Labour and National Insurance Minister Shane Gibson said NIB customers would be in receipt of their NIB payments “within acceptable time frames.”
“NIB started using a new administrative system over a month ago without any back-up and it is failing to pay the Bahamian people that need it the most, their money they need,” Dr Minnis said. “These are our most vulnerable people that are not getting paid by the failure of the PLP government and its leadership.
“The government decided to implement a new $14m system at NIB that has constantly failed to pay the Bahamian people for over a month now. Not only was the same system purchased by Milwaukee County in the United States for $2m less, but it took Milwaukee County four years to implement it properly. So why then did they think it would be wise to implement the new system for NIB without having a back up?”
Dr Minnis said the matter is further concerning when “executives and leadership at NIB continue to receive their massive bonuses while the Bahamian people are not getting the money they desperately need.”
“It should come as no surprise that the PLP will make sure to take care of their supporters over the Bahamian people,” he added. “While the PLP leadership sits around wondering why crime is up under their government they are failing to pay the Bahamian people that need it the most.
“The prime minister has failed to address the issue so far after a month of non-payments. The Bahamian people deserve answers today, not when it is convenient for the prime minister.”
“Staff at NIB are working seven days a week to try and get the Bahamian people paid but they can only do so much with a flawed system and no-back up system,” he added. “It is time for the PLP government to be held responsible for their failed leadership.
“How can the PLP be trusted to be in charge of the government for another five years when they cannot even get the Bahamian people that need it the most their NIB cheques?”
NIB has been engaged in the process of transitioning to a new IT platform for the past several years.
Phase one of the transitional process involved the rollout of the new NIB smart card, which was launched in May 2014. The completion of phase two, the “most complex of the phases,” was scheduled for the first week in April of this year.
In May, NIB officials said “transition issues” emanating from phase two had resulted in “regrettable inconvenience to a number of our valued customers.” At the time, NIB said the greatest impact was being felt by persons seeking disability benefit claims, along with customers seeking short-term benefit claims, such as maternity, sickness, injury and unemployment.
NIB also acknowledged challenges with “other benefit types,” however it said such issues “have been largely the exceptions.”
The issues encountered by NIB encompassed both “technical matters and organisational culture adjustments.” At the time, NIB said some 30 per cent of its customer base was being negatively affected as a result.
According to a report in The Nassau Guardian last week, Ms Bethel’s three-year contract with NIB, which expired on July 3, will not be renewed.