In last weekend’s edition of your newspaper, we presented the Guatemala Declaration. This was an output of the XXV General Assembly of the Inter-American Conference of Social Security; and we were represented at that Assembly By Deputy Board Chairman, Stanley Franks, Board member Ms Myrna Liburd and Director, Mrs. Sephlin Lawrence. With such a high level delegation, it is fair to say that St Kitts-Nevis not only helped to craft the document, but has also endorsed the principles contained. So what exactly does this declaration mean for us and for Social Security systems worldwide? Readers would have noticed the mention of Social Security system as an anti-poverty measure and as a buffer against economic and financial crises. In some ways, this is a re-affirmation of our purpose and a broadening of it. When our Social Security [and its predecessors] started, it replaced an ad hoc system that was based on female fecundity, fertility and massa’s goodwill. That is to say, the more chidren you had, the bigger your extended family, the kinder the master, the better off you were likely to be when you could no longer work. As such, the initial focus was on reducing individual poverty – people poverty if you wish. Eventually, that type of poverty of the 1970’s – the excessive pan handling – was ameliorated; and as the reserves of the Fund built up, it was viewed more as a financial institution than as a social institution. Poverty is still with us, but it has changed; largely, it has become hidden, exposed By crises such as those we have recently witnessed. As such, the Declaration brings us back full circle, to focus on national (and even global) poverty; and calls on us to create or re-create ‘safety nets’ to buffer our economies in times of crisis. We are called upon to make interventions that keep people in work or to keep people in funds or both. This, in part, explains our current discussions on Health Insurance and Unemployment Benefit. It also helps to justify our continued investments in the infrastructural and human resource of our country. I must also warn that it does not allow us to become a cash cow to be milked dry and put back out to pasture! Notice too, the use of phrases like ‘decent work’, economic productivity’, ‘safe and healthy working environment’. To my mind, these are calls for consideration to be given to a ‘softer” approach in the workplace in times like these. Instead of terminating many workers simultaneously, it may be advisable to place as many workers as possible on reduced hours. Termination can be disastrous, especially when it is swift and sudden. Some of the trauma associated with job loss can be lessened By a well funded, well supported, well governed Social Security Fund. The new culture of Social Security places emphasis on prevention rather than on damage control. It asserts that it would be far better to have preventive interventions rather than those which deal with the fall out from events. This type of thinking suggests that wellness ought to be encouraged and even rewarded even as sickness benefit continues to be made available. Safety in the workplace, ergonomics, social clubs, fitness centers are being encouraged in today’s workplace. The new culture also identifies education and training as critical tools in the fight against the forces that generate financial and economic crises. Clearly, there is a move amongst international organizations and countries towards cooperation rather than competition. This means that aid will probably shrink even more than it has already. Self reliance therefore will assume greater and greater significance. If you were a national of a metropolitan country, struggling to survive, how would you respond to having your reserves being sent overseas to countries whose ‘national savings’ under Social Security represents so much of their GDP? I would argue that with reserves of more than a billion dollars and with a 34 year contribution yield of roughly $890 million, there has to be greater reliance on ourselves and less on external support. The honeymoon is over, and has been for a long time. ( By the way, about $380million has been paid out in benefits over the 34 years). The Guatemala Declaration allows us to place emphasis on the here-and-now needs of the country, rather than the hereafter needs. It heightens our corporate responsibilities even as it accepts that individual needs are important. In fulfilling both, our economies would be better protected from external shocks. Do you understand why it is so important to fund national development? The Guatemala Declaration makes me realize that our Social Security has been on the right path for some time now. I am also re-assured that the proposals that have emerged through our Reform Project will augur well for the future. I take great comfort from that and so should you. Be prepared to celebrate Social Security week with us during the last week of April.
- Advertisement -