A Town Meeting was held at the Central Abaco Primary School in Dundas Town on March 9, 2018. The Hon. Brensil Rolle, Minister of State for Public Service and National Insurance, was the guest speaker who told the audience about a new computer system in place at National Insurance. The Hon. Darren Hanfield, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Member of Parliament James Albury, Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, were also present at the meeting.
Mr. Rolle told the group that the new computer system put in place in 2014 cost $14 million and is still undergoing fine tuning. All records for about 300,000 people must in put into the system. Government is now hiring temporary workers for this work. Accompanying Mr. Rolle was Ms. Tami Francis, Assistant Director of National Insurance for the Family Islands.
One of the main duties of Mr. Rolle is to guarantee the sustainability of the National Insurance fund. It is important that the fund be managed well to sustain the benefits for all who pay into the fund. The rate that persons pay will gradually rise to keep up with the economy. This increase will probably happen every two years.
Government recently included an unemployment program that pays a partial payment for up to 13 weeks annually. Government initiated the program on a non-contributory basis to begin with but then made it contributory. Government is now considering a similar program that will pay for drugs. It will be similar to the unemployment plan in that it will begin on a non-contributory basis but eventually be contributory. Government is also considering a pension plan for contractual workers.
Mr. Rolle urged everyone with the original yellow National Insurance card to apply for the new smart card. This blue ID card has a chip that contains biometrics on the individual and will serve as a national identification card.
Mr. Albury, MP for South Abaco, spoke briefly, telling the audience that the Hon. Romauld Ferreira, Minister of Environment and Housing, had visited Abaco that day to inspect all the Abaco dump sites. This is preparatory to making changes that will put in place more environmentally responsible ways of dealing with waste.
Other issues Mr. Albury mentioned are providing Abaco with a more reliable power supply and improving many of our roads.
Mr. Henfield, MP for North Abaco, announced that the government will be opening up a new housing area in Murphy Town between the community center and the high school. Government will put in all the utilities, then sell the lots at cost. Buyers will also be granted duty exemption on all building supplies.
Mr. Henfield explained that the S.C. Bootle Highway in the Stink Pond area will be reconstructed. The original culverts have collapsed, stopping the flow of water into a substantial fish nursery wetland. Repairs will cost more than $1 million to include culverts allowing the free flow of water to the marls.
Work should begin on this project within the next couple of months.
Mr. Henfield also mentioned the shanty towns where many immigrants live. The government is determined to clean up these areas. They will do this humanely and within the law. The Bahamas government will be working with the Haitian government to stop the flow of people coming to this country. Haiti must improve its economy to keep its people at home for employment and a better life as that is why they migrate here. Mr. Henfield emphasized that Haiti has to assist in stopping this migration here.
When the meeting was opened to questions from the audience, they covered a variety of subjects.
One person brought out the fact that many government buildings, including the school where they were assembled, are not being properly maintained. Government frequently borrows money from the National Insurance Board (NIB) for constructing these buildings, but does not follow-up with proper maintenance. Mr. Rolle will emphasize the need for proper maintenance. This applied to most government facilities, not just those financed by National Insurance.
Another person asked about the retirement age for beginning payments from NIB. Persons waiting until they are 65 will receive full retirement payments from NIB. However, persons can receive smaller payments beginning at 60. All persons must have made 500 contributions to qualify for retirement payments.
One person asked about all the derelict vehicles in shanty towns and elsewhere, mentioning that they are now being filled with garbage. Mr. Rolle explained that government recognizes this and will be removing them soon.
Central Abaco Primary School has a track that is used by school children as well as residents of that area. It needs to be paved. The audience was assured that Simmons Construction which is doing paving jobs on Abaco now will be paving this track with asphalt as well as the track by the Patrick Bethel High School.