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DOMINICA SOCIAL SECURITY IN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF DOMINICA
by Valda Henry
The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of partnerships between various groups and the Dominica Social Security Scheme (DSS) in the social and economic development of Dominica. The DSS is the largest mobiliser of saving in the country (Samuel, 1993), with its reserves accounting for 27.5% of GDP in 1998. Its main objective is the provision of benefits to contributors, however, given its importance in the economy, this paper argues that it has a role to play in the social and economic development of Dominica.,P. The paper is divided as follows: section two presents a brief historical background of the DSS and of its partnership relationships; in section three, findings from Henry (2001) on the role of partnerships in the performance of social security organisations are presented while in section four partnership relationships with the DSS and their roles are discussed and the conclusions are brought together in section five.
Historical Background of the Dominica Social Security Scheme
The Dominica Social Security Scheme was incorporated by Act 38 of 1975 and came into effect on February 1, 1976. Its predecessor, the National Provident Fund (NPF) was established in 1970. The NPF required a contribution of 10% paid equally between the employers and employees and entitled employees to a lump sum payment on retirement made up of all contributions received on their behalf plus the interests earned on the contributions. This system was however deemed to be inadequate as it placed the longevity risks squarely on the shoulders of the workers and also because many retirees squandered the lump sum received thus becoming charges on their families and in some cases the state in their latter years. The social security system was considered a better approach as instead of a lump sum payment; persons would be entitled to not only a pension until death but also other benefits while still employed.
At the inception of the DSS, the contribution rate was 8%, with employers responsible for paying 5% while employees paid 3%. When coverage for employment injury benefits was introduced in 1985, the employers' contribution increased to 7%, taking the total contribution rate payable to 10%. The benefits provided at the inception were old age pensions and grants, survivors' pensions and grants, sickness, maternity, invalidity. In later years, medical care and employment injury benefits were added. One of the shortcomings of the new system was that coverage was provided only for persons in the formal workforce. Given the heavy dependence on agriculture and the high incidence of informal workers in the country, a substantial proportion of the workforce was exempted from coverage. In 1986, as a means of redressing this situation, the self-employed persons were mandated to join the DSS. The self-employed persons contribute 7% of their net income quarterly, with a minimum contribution of $10.50 per quarter. They are entitled to all benefits except sickness and employment injury. Fifteen years on, compliance from this sector is relatively low.
The NPF board was tripartite comprising members from the trade unions, business community and government. Interestingly and surprisingly, the Act incorporating the DSS did not provide for tripartite representation. A review of the debate leading to the passage of the Act and newspapers around the time reveal no concern by either the trade unions, business community or the parliamentary opposition to this omission. This was a defining moment in the history of the DSS and laid the foundation for future partnership relationships of the DSS. Twenty one years on, there is still no tripartite representation on the board and the relationship of the DSS with partners in the community can be described at best lacking and at worst non-existent. This however, does not mean that this situation cannot be reversed. In fact, this paper argues that now is the time for reversal of this trend and for the establishment and maintenance of partnership relationships between the DSS and various groups in the community and beyond.
Findings On The Role of Partnerships For Social Security Organisations
Henry (2001) utilised panel data of the social security organisations in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in a multivariate framework to investigate the relationship between various factors on the governance and structure of those organisations. To test the role of partnerships with the social partners, the appointment process of the board and the composition of the board and investment committee were used as independent variables. The results revealed that partnerships with the social partners foster a climate of accountability, transparency and professionalism, which enhance the performance of the social security organisations.
The results suggest that involvement of the trade unions and business community on the board while reducing the rate of return increases the funding ratio, which gives an indication of the solvency of the organisation. This result while appearing contradictory is consistent with the position that these groups are risk averse. This then leads to low risk investments which reduces return, but it also leads to a greater emphasis on cost reduction, improving contribution collection mechanisms and general operational efficiency which leads to higher funding ratios. The results also indicate that to balance some of the risk averseness of the board, the investment committee, charged with analysing and recommending investment decisions, should be composed of a higher proportion of non-board members.
This then adds breadth to the organisation and this finding is consistent with the arguments of agency theorists that outside directors add breadth because of their experience and knowledge, provide independent assessments and serve as "checks and balances" on management (Kesner & Johnson, 1990, Williams & Shapiro, 1979, Pfeffer, 1972, Vance, 1983).
Henry also conducted interviews with the social partners (trade unions and employers' associations) in the OECS and found that even in countries where the Act stipulates tripartite board representation, there is not much involvement of the social partners in the nominating process and in the management of the social security organisations. The general consensus among the social partners was that the introduction of social security was arguably the single most important decision taken as it gave workers dignity in not only old age but during their working lives and also because of the positive impact on economic development.
They however argued that in some instances the board appointment process was too politicised, there was a lack of transparency and accountability, and that they were not engaged in a meaningful way in the operations of the social security organisations. They argued that their participation would add to the breadth and depth of the organisation, as they would bring in different skills, experiences and expertise to bear on the decisions, and also provide greater autonomy from the dictates of government. The evidence however, does not appear to support the latter claim, for in the three countries where the trade unions are involved in the nominating process, Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada and St. Lucia, government owes millions of dollars in both contribution and interest arrears.
In addition, in Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada, there is wide consensus, even among those social partners, that the board nominating and appointment process is highly politicised. The trade unions also argued that their involvement would play a major role in effecting compliance by both workers and employers. It is however, argued that this is a role that the trade unions should play, even without being represented on the board, for compliance of employers and employees is in the best interest of workers, whom they represent and serve.
Henry (2001) found and the social partners acknowledged, that notwithstanding the desire of the social partners to play a meaningful role in the management of the social security organisations, there is a level of apathy regarding the social security organisations. The social partners acknowledged that they have not been as proactive as they should be and some trade unions admitted that they have failed to participate in the policy formulation process even when they have been invited to do so. The social partners must recognise that it this indifference which is responsible in part for the perceived politicisation of the process, lack of accountability and transparency. Organisations are more wont to be transparent and accountable if the people whom they serve expect and demand it.
However, in recent times, the board and management of the social security organisations are beginning to recognise the need for greater transparency and accountability of their operations, and involvement of the social partners in not only policy formulation but in their fight against evasion of contributions, one of their key challenges. In the next section, partnerships and the role of those partnerships for DSS are identified.
DSS In Partnership
As mentioned in section two, the social security Act did not make provisions for tripartite representation, but instead gave the minister the authority to nominate five persons with experience in finance, business, industrial relations among other expertise. The governments over the years have not consulted with the trade unions or the business associations in making the board appointments. There also appears to be little consultation with the management of the DSS and government in making those appointments. The fact that these organisations have not been consulted in the board nomination and appointment process does not militate against them being consulted in other areas, but the relationship or rather partnerships between the DSS and the organisations have been sporadic at best.
It is however argued that given the current world order and the challenges faced by the DSS, it now has to take a proactive stance in fostering these partnerships. In 2001, the DSS identified the following as challenges: compliance, the need for proactive investing, proper management, increased public confidence, the demographic impact, networking with regional social security organisations and the domestic economic situation (Henry, 2001). A list of organisation with which the DSS has or can build partnerships and how these partnerships can be beneficial will be presented below. This list, however, is by no means exhaustive.
Social Security Organisations:
The DSS is a member of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and the Interamerican Conference on Social Security (CISS) and a member of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Social Security Organisations Meetings. These associations are important for they provide the opportunity for networking with other social security organisations, as well as provide research on topical issues in the industry. They can also serve as avenues for technical cooperation and learning.
The DSS can develop a closer working relationship with the other OECS and Caribbean social security organisations which would facilitate greater information sharing. This is especially urgent given the Reciprocal Agreements on social security between the OECS and CARICOM member states. In order to achieve the true benefits of the Agreements, the social security organisations will have to make a commitment of time and resources. The integrity of the record keeping takes on great importance as the information must not only be accurate and readily available but it is important to keep track of the movements of the insured persons within the territories.
In countries where the eligibility criteria for benefits differ, mechanisms will have to be introduced to ensure that neither persons nor the social security organisations are disadvantaged. It calls for harmonisation between and among the social security organisations in the OECS and CARICOM with respect to eligibility criteria and also with respect to their computer systems so that the systems can "talk" to each other, thus speeding up the delivery of service as well as ensuring the validity and accuracy of the claims presented. The importance of good governance of the organisations becomes pointedly obvious given the potential for increased claims against the organisations. The Reciprocal Agreements benefit workers and will foster greater movement of persons within the Caribbean, and the governments will have to ensure that legislation allowing the free movement of persons within the region is enacted. The OECS Member States in June 2001 agreed that there would be free movement of persons within the area by January 2002.
There appears to be little, if any formal relationship between DSS and the trade union movement in Dominica. The trade unions are not only not involved in the nominating and appointing process of the board, but there appears to be no consultation between the two groups. While two trade unions claimed to have written to various governments over the years about the matter, there appears to be no joint position taken by the unions in that regard, nor does there appear to have been a consistent application of pressure on government to redress the situation.
Though there have been plans to introduce a trade union congress (TUC), to date it has not been established. DSS can facilitate the establishment of a TUC by requesting joint representation from the trade unions on several issues. One of the key challenges for the DSS is evasion of contributions by government, employers in the formal and informal sector and the self-employed. The trade unions can play a major role in reducing evasion, by incorporating the payment of social security contributions as part of their collective agreements with government and employers. They can also play a role in getting workers in the informal sector to become members.
The Dominica Trade Union (DTU) asserts that it was instrumental in getting members of the Hucksters Association to become members of the DSS (Henry, 2001). There have been instances, especially in the informal sector, where employees have colluded with employers to evade the contributions and instances where employees have threatened to walk out of jobs if the social security contribution deductions are made. The trade unions in collaboration with the DSS, can mount training and educational programs for these workers. Employees may be more receptive to the information if the trade unions are involved.
This group does not only include the more established employers' organisations like the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC), the Dominica Employers' Federation (DEF) and the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA), but also associations of employers in the informal sector, like the Dominica Taxi Operators Association (DTOA), The Dominica Hucksters Association (DHA) and even less formal associations like those in the construction sector.
This is deemed important for Henry (2001) found that there was a divergence of not just resources and expertise but also opinion, between employers in the formal sector and those in the informal sector. There was also a divergence between large employers and small employers, and it is therefore argued that partnerships should be developed between the groupings to ensure that their positions are heard and wherever possible reflected in the policies. Building partnerships with these groups will improve not just on compliance but will serve as an important networking base for drawing on skills and expertise needed to enhance performance.
There are several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with which the DSS can forge close working relationships to expand their contribution base, determine the needs of those whom the NGOS serve so that they can tailor their programs to meet those needs and also assist these groups in meeting their objectives, and in so doing widen the nets served by the DSS. This will assist in increasing public awareness and confidence in the DSS.
The Rosie Douglas Foundation & Other Groups in the Diaspora
DSS can build partnerships not only with groups in the local economy but groups of Dominicans outside of the country who are interested and committed to assisting in the economic and social development of Dominica. The DSS provides an opportunity for persons to contribute voluntarily and this is a good opportunity for Dominicans in the Diaspora to augment their pension provisions, while at the same time expanding the contribution base of the organisation.
The partnerships can be developed at another very important level. A tremendous array of skills and expertise reside in these organisations, and the DSS can source some of their requirements from these groups. For example, the signing of the reciprocal agreements may require an enhancement of the computer facilities and operations and the DSS could work with these groups in sourcing relevant persons with the requisite expertise. This also goes for other areas, example investment training. The DSS has a social program whereby it contributes to various projects in the community. Many of these groups in the Diaspora have social development as an objective; the DSS could possibly work with these groups on a project, getting them to match their contribution in delivering the goals of the project.
Insurance Companies and Others in the Financial Sector
One of the advantages of the DSS is the increased awareness of the need to provide for retirement. Many persons do not plan for retirement or leave it when it is almost too late to prepare adequately. It is crucial to get across the message that the DSS provides only one pillar of support for workers in retirement, and this while being important may not be adequate to meet all the needs and so persons should be encouraged to make complementary arrangements for their retirement. Insurance companies, through various products provide that opportunity. However, for many the premiums are too high and so though willing, they are unable to afford the additional coverage.
A survey of insurance companies in the OECS identified three challenges in the expansion of insurance cover, namely (i) affordability (ii) a lack of co-ordinated efforts by government and (iii) a still lax approach to retirement by the population, especially the young (Henry, 2001). The insurance companies argued that the government has an important role to play in stimulating the market for private pensions and medical benefit coverage. The DSS, together with government, employers associations, trade unions and employers could work with the insurance sector to provide additional affordable pension coverage.
It can be argued that government is already in partnership with the DSS, however, it is argued that the relationship is uneven with the scales weighing very heavily in favour of the government. This paper argues that DSS has to renegotiate its relationship with government to make the partnership a more equal one. As a first order of business, the DSS has to put mechanisms in place to reduce government's debt to it. This is one of the factors giving rise to low public confidence as the public perceives the DSS as an extension of the government's treasury and so have serious misgivings that there will be adequate funds to meet their pension claims when due.
While some economists and social security experts (Thompson, 1998) do not see the role of social security organisations as one of facilitating economic growth, this paper concurs with the position of Mounbaga (1995) and Theodore & La Foucade (1999) that social security organisations in developing countries have to comply with the criteria of economic and social utility and be actively involved in the production efforts of these economies. However, it is argued that the DSS should adopt a portfolio management approach to the investment of its funds, as this leads to a disciplined and systematic approach to investing. This would ensure that government projects agreed to by the DSS are consistent with its risk and investment profile and so do not impair its ability to meet its primary objective of providing benefits to its contributors.
This would necessitate that DSS clearly defines its objectives and risk tolerance and establish an investment policy and guidelines. It would also necessitate the establishment of adequate systems of control and governance to manage the portfolio and calls for greater clarity in the definition of the relationship between the government and the DSS as well as between DSS and its constituents. Importantly, a portfolio management approach provides a mechanism for managing the relationship with government and making it a more equal one.
This paper argued that partnerships with various groups can play an important role in assisting the DSS in meeting its objectives and in becoming a more transparent and accountable organisation because of the breadth and width of the experiences and skills that it can draw upon. Various groups were identified for partnerships and it is important to note that these relationships are not mutually exclusive and the DSS can move between groups in a fluid manner given the nature of the project.
For example, in building a recreational centre for the retired, the DSS can work with government, and groups both within and outside Dominica with an interest in the elderly. In looking at education, it can work with government, the RDF, some NGOs and trade unions. In facilitating complementary pensions, DSS can work with government, the insurance companies and others in the financial sector, the employers' organisations and the trade unions. It appears that government plays a crucial role in the various projects and this strengthens the case for a more equal partnership between the two institutions.
These partnerships provide benefits both to all parties. They provide the DSS with an array of skills and expertise on which it can draw to meet both its primary and secondary objectives, while at the same time providing the opportunity to expand coverage, enhance compliance, improve public confidence and widen its networking base. The various partners also benefit for they are provided with a market for some of their services, and also facilitate them in achieving some of their objectives.