Charlestown-Nevis-It rained cats and dogs but that did not prevent the ceremony, to officially open the spanking brand new building that now houses the management and staff of the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board’s Branch office, from proceeding.
The ceremony was held on Wednesday 20th July on the grounds of the impressive structure, which is located at Pinneys Estate.
Among those present at the ceremony, were: Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris; Hon. Vance Amory, Premier of Nevis and Minister of Social Security; Deputy Premier, Hon. Mark Brantley; Directors of the Social Security Board; management and staff of the Social Security Board; employers; self-employed persons; employees; persons who assisted with the construction of the building and other stakeholders.
The proceedings were ably chaired by the versatile Public Relations Officer at the Branch Office, Walter Morton, who ensured that the items flowed smoothly and received special commendation for that, from Prime Minister Harris.
The invocation was delivered by Rev. Spencer Watts and the national anthem was beautifully rendered by staff member, Miss Akiana Skelton.
In delivering welcoming remarks, Director of the Social Security Board, Mrs. Sephlin Lawrence, who hinted briefly at retirement, took time out to make a clarion call for necessary reform to the current Social Security system.
She noted that the reserves have gone past the one billion EC dollars mark but noted that it now requires sound investment decisions which are paramount in order for the fund to remain sustainable.
She challenged Prime Minister Harris and the Board to seek reform, THIS YEAR, as a matter of urgency, in order to make sure that the fund remains viable for generations to come.
She indicated that the Benefits expenditure is now 78% of the contributions income.
‘Let us make the changes. There is no right climate for reform. It must be done when persons can be given time,’ she stated passionately.
Project manager, Mr. Peter Jenkins, then gave a comprehensive review of the various phases, leading up to the eventual construction of the building and lauded the various contractors who were involved, for their magnificent work.
These included: Mr. Sarne Glasford-Architect; Mr. Kennedy Bryan-Quantity Surveyor; Mr. Errol Douglas-Structural Engineer; Mr. Vincent Chiverton-Contractor; Mr. Lawrie Elmes-Project Manager for Contractor; Mr. Alston Phillip-sub contractor for air conditioning; Mr. Hugh Charles-supervisor electrical work; Mr. Elston Tuckett-supervisor of plumbing; Mr. Clyde Nisbett-supervisor of data and security and Ms. Sian Chiverton-legal officer for contractor.
He stated that the ground breaking ceremony to commence the construction, was held on Friday May 17th 2013 and the building was officially handed over to the Social Security Board at the end of December 2015.
The three storey reinforced concrete structure features both office space for Social Security and commercial rental space.
Prime Minister Harris noted that Social Security is a very special national institution-‘one of the few institutions established to serve all of our people but more particularly, it was intended that this institution will always be at the service of the poor and the under-served of this island and our federation at large.’
He paid tribute to some of the managers and leaders who had worked tirelessly to make Social Security a success story in the Federation.
He recalled that his first employment as a young teenager was with the Social Security Board and stated that his work ethics were honed there.
He responded to the call for reform by the Director Lawrence, by indicating that his cabinet will look seriously at several proposals for reform, as he indicated that his administration will never allow the fiscal viability of the scheme to be placed in jeopardy.
He listed some of the possible reform methods to be looked at:
- Raising the pensionable age from 62 to 65, although the persons who are nearing the age will be accommodated in a special way
- A movement towards a career average rather than the utilization of the best three years of the last fifteen.
- Bringing an end to assistance pension for those who during their working life, refused to make contributions. He used the opportunity to urge all self-employed persons to get on board immediately.
- The flat lining of the set actuarial rate so that each year of work has equal weight in the calculation of the pension.
- That the Social Security Board, based on the last two actuarial reports, do a better job at managing its administrative costs.
He also made it quite clear that no reform will be implemented without public consultations, in the first instance.
A moment’s silence was observed in honor of some of the staff members and workers related to the project, who had died between the start of the project and up to the present time.
This was followed by an exemplary performance on his beloved saxophone, by staff member, Alex Condell, who thrilled the audience, despite the pouring rain.
Minister of Social Security, Premier Vance Amory spoke with passion, as he noted that Social Security has been a bastion for the people during good times and bad times.
He stated that wherever there are societies, there will always be a need for the care of persons and their social needs.
He complimented the members of the Board, past and present; the Director and her staff for their tremendous work.
He pointed out that the building (edifice) is just that, but more important, is what goes on inside the offices; how the staff members deal with the contributors and non-contributors alike, but he quickly pointed out that all persons who are required to make contributions, should do so, as the Social Security Board takes no pleasure in taking people to court.
“The Social Security Board will not long endure, if the delinquency rates continue to rise,’ he said.
He stated that it is not any pleasure for him to get calls asking for Social Security to be lenient.
He said that he would shortly be making a submission to cabinet as regards the call for reform, made by Director Lawrence.
He also made the public revelation that two Ministries will be shortly taking up space at the new building as the Bath Hotel offices where they are currently, are posing health issues for the workers.
The official blessing of the building was performed by Rev. Spencer Watts and Mrs. Vernie Amory, wife of Premier Amory, had the distinct honour of cutting the ribbon to the new building.
The vote of thanks was eloquently delivered by Board member, Mrs. Jacqueline Brookes-Jeffers and the all present were treated to a guided tour of the building and also treated to delectable snacks.