Open letter on NIS to Dr Ashni Singh

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Dear Editor,

I wish to commend HE Dr Irfaan Ali, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, and the entire Cabinet for their aggressive efforts to improve the lives of the Guyanese people. I share these remarks in light of senior Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh’s recent undertaking to journey the length and breadth of our beloved country in various outreaches to speak with and listen to those who have issues concerning NIS.

This initiative resonates well with me because, for decades, I have been fervently advocating, via my many articles and commentaries, that serious attention be paid not only to the internal affairs of the NIS, but for issues that I hope to address in this letter.

We have long heard of employees stealing from their employers, but in recent years, we are seeing a rise in the number of employers who steal from their employees. This occurs when they deduct NIS from their employees’ salaries and fail to pay them to the relevant authorities.

This deceptive behaviour is a widespread and pervasive issue that directly affects thousands of workers each year. The lack of NIS benefits to contributors when they need them disproportionately harms workers, with many of them resorting to the streets in their senior years due to their inability to support themselves.

Additionally, it should come as no surprise that many of the workers rely heavily on Government assistance programmes to make ends meet. This, I feel, places an unfair burden on the Government’s safety net programmes. It is tragic when employers maliciously forsake workers in their golden years, expecting that the Government would spring to their aid. Not everyone realises this but when NIS contributors are cheated out of their benefits, not only do they and their families suffer, but the Government suffers as well. In this case, the Government is obligated to provide more funding for social welfare programmes in order to cover the gaps left by employers.

This heinous crime may even have an effect on the NIS’s balance sheet and ability to deliver services and collect payments on time, placing the NIS in jeopardy of bankruptcy. This is unfair to the NIS, while these unscrupulous employers profit at the expense of their employees.

Years ago, we recall the Government seeking to decentralise watchmen from the Government security contract and, as a result, creating a system in which the Union was given the option to start a security and cleaning company. While that Union was given tremendous support and opportunity at the time, the PPP/C Government, which meant well, was abused by the Union, resulting in mass theft of workers’ monies for over seven years while workers were denied their rights and benefits. This consequently led to chaos and crisis in people’s lives.

This company later filed bankruptcy and went out of business, causing misery for all of its employees. Another security service in central Georgetown, after former GRA Commissioner advised the Government and the authorities that the security company should be wound down, the owner being a late lawyer and military officer simply declared bankruptcy, changed their name, and then went back into business with another name. Despite these atrocities, they still seem to be getting dozens of contracts, some with hundreds of security guards around the country in the regional system and other Government contracts.

Further, I believe that a lack of sufficient investigators is especially problematic, especially when there is no enforcement body to probe these matters. I am of the conviction that the penalties are inadequate to punish such unscrupulous employers. I have been advocating for this for decades without receiving a response from any Administration – present or former – but I am pleased that this Government is now taking action.

To add to their efforts, I respectfully propose the following solutions:
1. The laws governing the NIS must be severely criminalised.
2. Heavy prison terms, confiscation of properties and bank accounts, not just to recover the debt but also to bolster the NIS’s finances.
3. There is a need for more dynamic, trustworthy investigators who cannot be corrupted.
4. Imprisonment.

I am of the opinion that once these laws are criminalised, the money will start pouring in, and employers will start volunteering to pay. I trust that while the Government examines people’s complaints through our Hon Minister Dr Ashni Singh, they should focus on strengthening the laws and blocking these culprits, thieves, and bandits in suits and ties who pose as security services and businessmen in this country while defrauding the NIS and the working class. From 1992 till now, I have indicated to the previous Governments that they can proceed to private criminal suits for the time being, while the laws are being reviewed and prepared for Parliament so that the President may affix his signature. Nonetheless, Dr Irfaan Ali appears to be the only President since then who has the strength and spiritual fortitude to ensure that these actions are taken and laws are modified to suit.

It must also be known that many such security services and other similar sectors have mastered the technique of bidding below cost to win projects, as we have witnessed with this one security service. They are able to do so because they recurrently steal from employees to make up for their deficit. This, in my opinion, disadvantages competitors who adhere to the law, like my company.

I implore Dr Ashni Singh to look into this matter. Examine if workers are receiving the NIS benefits to which they are entitled. Further, I wish to reiterate that this writer advocates for stricter laws that would punish employers who steal their employees’ NIS. I advocated for this in one of my previous articles, “Jail the thieves of NIS, PAYE, and VAT,” which was published in the various print media on November 28, 2020, in which I expressed that employers who steal from their employees should face a penalty of jail or an extremely heavy fine.

I, Roshan Khan, believe that no company should be allowed to obtain a competitive edge by defrauding its workforce. A business should not exist if it cannot succeed without breaching the law. Consequently, these fraudulent companies must be blacklisted!

Sincerely,
Roshan Khan Sr