By anguillian December 18, 2017 15:33 Updated




The Anguilla Government, having previously announced its intention, in collaboration with the Social Security Board, to assist unemployed and underemployed persons affected by Hurricane Irma, is pushing ahead with plans to fulfil that undertaking. The first payments are expected to be made before the end of this month.

The Government took the matter to the Anguilla House of Assembly for ratification on Tuesday and Wednesday this week with the introduction and passage of the Social Security (Amendment) Bill. According to the plan, unemployed persons will receive an initial payment of EC$1,500 and six weeks thereafter, if they are still unemployed, a further EC$1,500.

In the case of underemployed persons (those earning less than EC$1,500 a month), there will be an initial payment equal to the difference between EC$1,500 and one month’s salary (that is EC$1,500 minus salary for one month). Six weeks after that, if the persons are still unemployed, they will receive a further payment calculated in the same manner.
The necessary temporary regulations, associated with the Bill were laid on the table by Chief Minister and Minister of Finance, Mr. Victor Banks, when the House began its sitting on Tuesday, December 12. “The first one, the Social Security (Unemployment Assistance) (Temporary Benefits) Regulations 2017 is the substantive Regulation before this Honourable House,” Mr. Banks explained. “The second one, the Social Security (Unemployment Assistance) (Temporary Benefits) Amendment Regulations 2017 amends that Regulation to clarify the level of support that is being conceived under this unemployment benefit scheme.”
Mr. Banks further stated: “Mr. Speaker, the Government of Anguilla would have spoken about this issue in the Honourable House of Assembly. That was when the question was raised by the Leader of the Opposition as to what specifically the Government was doing to assist members of the community in being able to ‘weather the storm’ after Hurricane Irma with regards persons who will be unemployed as a result of that serious weather event. It was to ensure that we find some ways to mitigate the challenges they will face to meet their commitments of various kinds – whether to the banks, in terms of supporting their families, settling bills or having to do with medical [services], electricity, water and other critical issues that they want to address – to make some provision to assist them in meeting those needs.
“The Anguilla Social Security system, Mr. Speaker, is designed to ensure that the members of the community, who contribute to the fund, are in some way assisted. There are specific provisions for that from the Social Development Scheme that is used for various projects – and for assistance to various community events that take place – and things that the Social Security Board may approve under my hand as the Minister responsible for Social Security from time to time. But this temporary benefits scheme that is being proposed is specific to a response to a natural disaster, and the humanitarian needs as a result of that. It is not an unemployment issue. It is a specific humanitarian response to the fact that a number of persons would lose their jobs as a result of Hurricane Irma.
“It is important for us to join with the rest of the agencies that are giving some support. [These include] the Red Cross which has sent some support to the Ministry of Finance, and intends to make that even wider with a much larger benefit assistance package [in addition to] other grant resources we can get from the various other agencies – the European Union and the British Government.”

The Chief Minister continued: “The Member for Island Harbour (Ms. Palmavon Webster) is quite appropriate in asking that we should have further consultations but I had to indicate to her that this is urgent. It would not be useful at all to delay the matter because we already know what has been decided by Social Security which makes these decisions based on actuarial advice and the capacity of the Board to respond to them. The concerns of contributors [to social security] have already been taken into account. This is a decision which the Board makes. It is not a referendum. As a consequence, it is important and decent that members of the public contributing to the scheme get information [but], at the same time, it is important that we respond quickly to the critical needs that exist – especially in this season where people are looking to make sure that for certain pressures and stresses they have – that there is some alleviation.
“As a consequence, Mr. Speaker, while I understand the concerns of the member for Island Harbour, the Leader of the Opposition, [to delay the matter for consultation], I think they are quite genuinely put forward but I must say, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the availability of members at this time of the year, it may be difficult to have a quorum. I too will be absent for a period of time and as Minister of Social Security I would like to address these regulations and bills in this Honourable House. I think we have had considerable discussion in our press conferences and radio presentations.
“The Minister for Labour who is the Member for East End [Mrs. Cora Richardson-Hodge] was very forthright in her Ministry putting this forward…As a matter of fact, the Chairman of the Social Board and the Director of Social Security, mentioned very early that there would be an opportunity to respond in some way to this need in the community. It was widely discussed among all the agencies – the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Finance, Social Security and the Government of Anguilla in Executive Council in general. The Attorney General’s Office was very diligent in preparing the Amendment Bill and the Regulations that are requisite to making this happen – so we are well on our way to addressing this need. I think it will not be helpful to delay it any further.”
Responding, the Leader of the Opposition said in part: “It is very difficult and I understand that the Chief Minister is very anxious to provide relief and support to those still suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Irma. I totally identify with that objective but, Mr. Speaker, I am also a seasoned lawyer and I know that sometimes, like the old people say, ‘more haste, less speed’. It might in fact be possible for an interested citizen to dispute that this is correct and then no relief will be made available to anyone. That would be a sad thing, and not only that, but Social Security might have a huge responsibility…”
Ms. Webster stressed that contributors to Social Security should have a chance to obtain more information about the intended pay outs. “I think it is absolutely critical that our people are afforded the opportunity to fully understand what it is, and it is not a big Bill,” Ms. Webster urged. “I am suggesting a week [delay] so that it doesn’t interfere with the formal holidays – just a week’s opportunity so that the debate can be a substantive one and for our people to have the opportunity to consider what it really means to them. I know, Mr. Speaker that a week is a lot of time for persons who are really suffering…but I think we need to be seen to be doing the right thing. I don’t think that we need a court of law to tell us that.
“We just need to put ourselves in the shoes of those elderly persons who are very concerned that they contributed [to social security] not just for two weeks, but for years, and that they may be at risk,” she went on: “I think that there should by a week’s notice to give our people an opportunity to look at the actual provisions of the Bill and to satisfy themselves that they are not at risk. I know that Government in the interim can find other ways to alleviate the harm that others are suffering, and I am repeating the request for only a week.”
Chief Minister Banks pointed out that it was the Government’s intention to have the debate on Wednesday morning as well as on Thursday morning, if necessary. “The reason for that, Mr. Speaker, is to ensure that we do not have all three readings in one day,” he explained.
Mr. Banks added: “We want to make sure that people come forward and put in their claims. It was delayed for a long period of time to get it right. Now that we think we have it right, we do not need to come back to the House. To put it off does not really make sense. Once the amendment takes the required readings and time, it will be law and anybody who questions it afterwards will be questioning the law.”

The Bill was eventually given its third reading and passed.

By anguillian December 18, 2017 15:33 Updated


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