THERE is a saying in the US that social security is the third rail of politics – the third rail being the one that carries the electric charge and if you touch it, you’ll get zapped.
Similarly, here in The Bahamas, one of the long-untouched topics that hasn’t properly been dealt with is the state of the National Insurance Board pot – that’s our social security net.
Credit then to Brensil Rolle, the National Insurance Minister, who broached the topic of increasing contributions to make NIB more viable.
Let’s be honest – it’s been a rough couple of years between Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic we’re still fighting, and that NIB pot has been stretched as it never has been before.
In this column, we were warning that the NIB pot would have to be refilled, even as then Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest was talking last April and then August about there being no plans to increase Value Added Tax “or any other taxes” or existing levies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Rolle was non-committal about whether an increase in NIB contributions would come – but simply putting the idea out there is a step that shows how necessary such a move might be.
On an increase, he said: “The recommendation has been made from 2015, I believe it’s been out there. To be quite frank with you, neither the PLP nor the FNM has been bold enough to take that back to the public and so, during this pandemic, I again say Bahamians now realise the importance and value of NIB.”
Tough times call for bold measures – and times have never been tougher. Whatever the solution is, it is clear that our NIB funds need to be shored up. Some of that may well come from people returning to work and the pot is beginning to swell with contributions once more. And certainly, it will need that broad base to make a difference, so we need people to get back to work and the economy starting to tick once more. Mr Turnquest was right in saying in August that “Nothing from nothing is still nothing” when talking about the futility of increasing taxes when there’s nothing to tax in the first place.
But as we start to slowly move back towards our workforce returning and tourists bringing back their money, it is time to assess what we do with NIB, how we fund it – and whether we can fund it better than we have before.
It has proven invaluable during this pandemic to so many people – probably it has been of more use to the Bahamian people than at any point since it opened its doors in 1974, not far off 50 years ago. What we need to do now is to prepare for the next 50 years – and whatever might come our way in future.
Oh la la! What a to-do!
We report today on one of those events that you wouldn’t believe if it was in a fiction story.
The French have had The Bahamas on a blacklist – and why? The Bahamas protested, asking why the French didn’t contact The Bahamas before blacklisting them. The French said that they did.
It turns out they used an email address that no one here in The Bahamas was checking. When they received no response, onto the blacklist we went. Seriously? The economic wellbeing of the country was put at risk because someone didn’t check their email?
And that is the story of how we went from “You’ve got mail!” to a very costly faux pas.