and MICHAEL RAMSINGH
A mother is now pleading for the public’s help to get her family out of the abject poverty in which they now live.
A grim picture of the National Insurance Board (NIB) has been painted, with repeated complaints of poor customer service, lack of foresight to partner with other entities to make the NIB more efficient and some 844 claims before the National Insurance Appeals Tribunal, which may take as long as eight years to be completed. These were the issues revealed at yesterday’s joint select committee meeting in Parliament.
Representing the NIB were chairman Adrian Bharath, who took up the post some 13 months ago; Karen Gopaul, acting executive director; Keston Nancoo, director; Niala Persad-Poliah, executive manager, legal services; Greta Stephen-Henry, acting executive manager, insurance operations; and Gregoria Sandy, manager of appeals. Senior economist Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir, who headed the JSC, said the objective of the hearing was to investigate the operations of the NIB.
Addressing NIB representatives, he complained that one of the systemic problems was missing claims on the part of the NIB, adding this was also a challenge which he had personally encountered. Giving a brief overview of the organisation, Bharath described the NIB as being caught in a “time warp.” “When I first got inside there, we had facilities that looked like they were 20 years old. It’s an institution that hasn’t gone through a lot drastic change. It is not accustomed to that.
“We have embarked upon some very drastic changes in order to deal with some of these issues. What has to be clarified is that you have a backlog of claims going back, some 800-odd claims, some going back as far as 2004 and before,” Bharath said. This, he added, placed a burden on the NIB, as resources already had to deal with current matters.
On the issue of customer service, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, Minister of Public Administration, said the feedback from her constituents was one which left much to be desired. She said there were many customer service programmes which should be used to enhance the NIB. “While you are going through organisational transformation you still have to serve the public. You can still start with the frontline staff you have.
“I really want to appeal to the NIB to start a programme of customer training and customer certification and a lot of it can be done on the job,” Seepersad-Bachan said. She also criticised the NIB for not making a greater effort with the various entities, including the Ministry of Legal Affairs, for getting timely information. What was particularly harrowing, she said, was that many senior citizens had to be going back and forth to the NIB to submit life certificates.
“We have a system in this country for the registration of births and deaths, and you can partner so easily. Let the Ministry of Legal Affairs provide you with a list, because it is done electronically, and they can give you that update and you can determine who you need to strike off, almost on a daily basis. “These are the innovations we need to think about. In the age of technology we can share databases and these are the things that can leapfrog you into the 21st century,” she urged.
Bharath said the NIB had tried to acquire biometric cards to avoid people from leaving their homes. “But what you need to understand is that since 1972, a system has been cultivated which is, in some instances, archaic. “We are not going to get there overnight and we are not going to get there in a year. We need to get there in phases. But we need to put the basics in place first and do things step by step and make sure they work,” Bharath insisted.
But Seepersad-Bachan shot back that partnering with the Legal Affairs Ministry was a simpler system, adding that short-term plans must be implemented. On the issue of customer service Nancoo said even though millions had been spent on this type of training, “customer care came from the home.” “And what we find happening is the resource pool is not there. It is extremely challenging to get the volume or the number of individuals and more importantly the time because quality customer service takes time,” Nancoo said.
Port-of-Spain North/St Ann's West MP Patricia McIntosh disagreed, saying there were excellent programmes which could develop people and the NIB should view this as a priority. Echoing her sentiments, Mahabir said: “I think some of us should go to some of the fast food places...there is one company that sells fried chicken, and the customer service that you get there for ordinary people is really outstanding, and I think you should try and check them out sometime.”
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