Wednesday, August 12, 2020
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Insurance Board Minister Brensil Rolle has defended operations at NIB’s cheque distribution centre, saying while there were some challenges with the process, officials were still able to dole out a "significant number" of payments.
His comments came yesterday amid public outcry over long lines and lengthy wait times at the NIB site - Thomas A Robinson National Stadium.
Hundreds turned out Monday to receive overdue unemployment payments.
Last week, Mr Rolle told a local news station that thousands of NIB benefit checks had not been collected.
When NIB opened on Monday amid the country’s two-week lockdown, hundreds of laid off workers flocked to the stadium in anticipation of collecting the long-awaited cheques.
However, after hours of waiting in the long lines, some people complained about not receiving the cheques despite their names being posted on a list by NIB via social media.
Speaking to reporters ahead of Cabinet yesterday, Mr Rolle admitted that NIB had encountered several issues during Monday’s distribution. However he noted that officials were working to rectify all issues and improve the process moving forward.
He said: “I told the media a few weeks ago that we had thousands of cheques at NIB that was not collected. We published a list of names and in the transition from those persons who did not collect their checks and the new government rollover of program, that resulted in hundreds of persons coming to the stadium to collect a check.”
“Others just came to see whether there was a check for them to collect and so yes, it was a challenge yesterday. For the most part, we satisfied a significant number of Bahamians and they got the checks that we printed for them.”
“But you have to take into account that there are hundreds of Bahamans who one, do not have a bank account so we cannot make a direct deposit to them,” the minister added. Secondly, they may not want us to make a direct deposit because the banks may deduct sums from them.”
“And thirdly, some individuals, particularly those who wanted to get on the new rollover program saw this an opportunity to come to NIB to get service. I understand what the frustration of persons are during this pandemic and we also understand that we have been going through more than thirteen weeks of this activity and many individuals just do not have the funds to do what they wish.”
“And so, what we determined for (today) is we will have a list of actual physical checks that we have in our possession. We will go down through the line and form a triage so that individuals who are there to pick up a check can join the line and leave the speculation to others.”
To date, Mr Rolle said NIB has spent over $100 million dollars on unemployment assistance.
However, it is not clear how many people collected unemployment cheques on Monday, with Mr Rolle telling reporters he could not give a definite estimate. Still, the minister assured yesterday that workers who have contributed to NIB will receive their benefits.
Addressing the issue as to why some people were not able to receive the payments on Monday, Mr Rolle said some individuals were not to able to collect the cheques either because they had been paid a week prior or had been re-employed.
“There were two employees who came to the window while I was there whose names were on the list, cheques were printed for them but we subsequently got from the employer an indication that these persons were back to work so we could not issue those cheques,” he told reporters.
“Secondly, there are individuals whose names were on the list but they picked up the cheque the Thursday before and came back on Monday and expected a new cheque and so these all of a growing pains and like I (today) we will have a physical list of every cheque that is in the sports centre and as we go down the line we will confirm the names and ID’S of these individuals and we will make sure that they have a cheque available.”
Meanwhile, as it relates to hotel workers who have not yet been paid by their employers, Mr Rolle said he could not say what the issues were, but noted that NIB officials are monitoring the situation.
“I can’t say what is happening with the company,” he said. “We have an arrangement with the companies to disperse the monies to the client. This arrangement is based on the fact that the companies have given us a list of persons who worked for them and unemployed as a result of this.”
“In addition to that, there are hundreds of individuals who have gone back to work, and I discovered this yesterday when I went the sports centre. They have gone back to work, and the companies have advised us that they are back to work.”
Asked yesterday about the sustainability of the national insurance fund amid the pandemic, Mr Rolle replied: “I can’t predict what the future is going to hold but what I do know…I want to encourage employers to make contributions to NIB on behalf of the employees because they deduct funds from the employees for that purpose.”
“And for those who do not deduct funds, I urge you to begin to do that for your employees. Six months ago, we did not anticipate, and no one could’ve anticipated that we would spend over $100 million in unemployment assistance from March to now.”
“So, yes the question is how long we could go- I can’t tell you (but) what I do know is the funds has been sustainable up to this point but as Bahamians, we must also understand that we must now contribute back to this fund to make sure that it is sustainable so that you and I could get benefits from it. “