Ladies and Gentlemen, I bid you all a very good morning as I greet you on behalf of my Government and the people of Dominica.
Let me add my own words of welcome to all of you gathered here particularly, our visiting friends from the CARICOM member states. I am delighted to address you on this occasion as you meet for the 22nd Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Social Security.
There is no doubt in my mind that this meeting is of great importance, not just for you as Directors and Heads of Social Security Schemes, but for the many people of the region who depend on these schemes for their livelihoods.
As Directors and Heads of Social Security Schemes, this meeting provides the opportunity for dialogue and deliberation on issues that are pertinent to the survival of social security in the region.
I pondered the theme for this meeting which is, “SOCIAL SECURITY - STRIVING FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT”, and considered what actions are possible to improve social security schemes, but to do so in a manner which ensures the sustainability of these funds.
It is well established that the Social Security or National Insurance systems are among the largest, if not the largest, mobilizers of domestic savings. They constitute the main pillars of the social protection mechanism for persons in the post-employment period of their lives. As such, they play a critical role in fostering the well-being of our retired citizens and the many family members for whom they are responsible.
In addition, the many short-term benefits provided to contributors ensure that even during one’s working life, he or she can benefit from these funds.
These benefits have a direct positive impact on the economy and this reinforces the need to have strong social security systems; schemes that are sustainable.
One of the ways to ensure that social security schemes improve is to develop prudent investment practices. At all times, investment decisions should be made on the basis of the best information available and after having carried out the necessary due diligence.
Investments should be targeted at increasing income directly through cash investments. But investments should also be targeted at economic activity so that the increased employment so created would result in increased contributors and contributions. Ultimately, all investments should enhance the ability of the Social Security/National Insurance systems to adequately fulfill their mandate.
At the same time, we must be prudent. We are not insulated from the economic, political and social conditions which impact the way businesses operate. We must take a cue from the experiences of others and some of our own experiences, where efforts to obtain high returns ended instead with major losses. There are numerous examples of schemes, mutual funds and other investment funds that have suffered losses in recent times.
Our social security and national insurance schemes should not be made to suffer the same fate. If this is allowed to occur it is the citizens of our countries who will suffer.
Of necessity, therefore, and by virtue of your need to continually seek to maximize the returns that you generate on investments in a prudent manner, it is incumbent upon you to actively pursue the diversification of your investment portfolios and helping to mitigate against the risks inherent in making investments.
In this regard, I welcome the conversations that have started on the possibility of pooling of regional resources. It is almost always more effective to work together rather than separately. The Government of Dominica therefore gives its support to this initiative. Your task must be to ensure that this move is one which serves to improve all of the schemes of the region.
The mandatory review of the various Social Security/National Insurance systems must be upheld and is a necessary step in the process towards ensuring the long-term viability of the systems. Since such actuarial reviews are meant to signal emerging trends and to propose appropriate recommendations for addressing shortcomings, I believe that this is one of your most instructive bases for the pursuance of continuous improvements. Such recommendations must be decided on in a timely manner. But to be fully effective, beneficiaries and contributors must be part of the process. You are encouraged therefore to pursue improvements to schemes by including all the stakeholders in consultation and public education.
The quest for improvement to the schemes suggests that reforms will invariably occupy your attention at various stages during the lifetime of your respective systems. These reforms must be communicated to and understood by stakeholders. In that regard, I posit that the extent to which you are open and transparent with your operations can and will serve to facilitate such stakeholder acceptance whenever this becomes necessary.
A most important improvement that has been made to schemes is the extension of coverage. The fact that you now cover self-employed persons and voluntary contributors is indicative of your recognition of the need to increase the percentage of the population that is provided with the security that the social security schemes provide. But there is still much more that needs to be done. There is still a very large number of persons engaged in the informal sector who refuse to come on board and participate in the Social Security programme.
We must continue our efforts to get these persons into the net. While this is not the responsibility of the schemes only, there is no doubt that you are well placed to lead the education process and drive that will bring more persons in as contributors. I also urge other stakeholders such as trade unions, employer organizations and relevant associations of various categories of informal workers, to encourage all eligible persons to participate in the programme which affords all participants some level of social protection.
We all would have enjoyed some level of success at the country level. From the regional standpoint though, I wish to highlight the formulation and implementation of the CARICOM Agreement on Social Security which came into being in April 1997.
The advent of such an agreement has afforded retiring CARICOM nationals, who have worked in different territories during their working lives, to enjoy an enhanced benefit which is commensurate with their total participation within the regional labour force.
I trust that employees of the region are aware of this provision and of its benefits. The Agreement promises to safeguard the Social Security benefits of CARICOM nationals as they move and work in different member states. In that respect, therefore, the Agreement is consistent with the objectives of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) which promotes and allows for the free movement of labour within the single economic space.
Indeed, by design, the CARICOM Agreement on Social Security makes it possible for people to move without losing either their rights to, and/or their actual Social Security benefits themselves. Thus, it provides for consideration to be given to an individual’s total participation in the labour force, when determining his/her benefit entitlement upon retirement. As a matter of fact, I am advised that CARICOM may even have adopted this phrase “MOVE AND NOT LOSE” as an appropriate tag-line for promotion of the Agreement across the region.
Against that background, it is evident that, as a region, our social and economic circumstances are changing and as such, it is imperative that our people, systems and structures adjust in order to keep abreast of such changes within our operating environment. How successful we are in remaining viable while maintaining our relevance will depend on how well we are able to respond and adapt to such emerging realities.
The fact that our Social Security/National Insurance systems are intended to be here for the long haul, in order to serve successive generations of our citizens, makes the pursuit of continuous improvement in the various facets of social security operations not a mere desirability, but an imperative not to be taken lightly.
In that regard, you must find the balance between sustainability and relevance. There must be a balance between the resources that flow into and out of the system. In seeking to strike such balance, you are upholding the spirit and intent of the whole concept of Social Security, which is built on the principle of solidarity among those contributing and those receiving benefits.
I have noted in your agenda, discussion which will serve to highlight share experiences on strategies and programmes which have proven to be effective and replicated by member states. There is merit in learning from each other since it makes no sense reinventing the wheel; it allows for the avoidance of pitfalls and importantly it serves to build relationships among the various schemes.
As I end, I again want to welcome all of you, our visitors, to the Nature Isle and I exhort every one of you, during your short stay, to relish the beauty of our island while you bask in the warm hospitality of the Dominican people. Let me also thank you for the courtesy of your attention and wish you fruitful deliberations over the course of the next two days.
I thank you all very much, and pray God’s richest blessings upon you and our region!