General — 22 June 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
Raise in SSB contributions a “political” decision, says SSB CEO

SSB contributions will increase by two percent in 3 years

CEO Dr. Colin Young said that his primary concern was the safeguarding of the SSB fund, and that apart from the memo, he lobbied Cabinet ministers personally on a one-on-one basis for them to agree to the raise.

BELIZE CITY, Tues. June 18, 2019– There have been quite a number of political spins surrounding the Belize Social Security Board phased-in two percent increase in the contributions required from employees and employers, which has been done to maintain the viability of the Social Security Board fund so as to guarantee that when future generations of workers reach retirement age, they will be able to receive benefits from the fund.

In response to a blistering attack from the Opposition People’s United Party via a press release yesterday, Monday, June 17, the Social Security Board called a press conference today at its Belize City office, at which the Social Security Board (SSB) chairman, Doug Singh, and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Colin Young, vigorously defended the SSB’s increase and a three-page memorandum written to Cabinet that Dr. Young had penned and controversially captioned:” “How the U.D.P. can leverage S.S.B.’s sustainability to gain political advantage.”

Our phone calls to Dr. Young yesterday, just before we went to press, were not returned, and Amandala did not receive a notice, or invitation to the press conference, notwithstanding our editor’s decision not to run the story until Dr. Young had had an opportunity to comment on the PUP’s press release, which castigated him for his political advice to Cabinet.

The PUP captioned their press release, “The People’s SSB — not the UDP’s SSB.”

The press release opens with this assertion: “The news that Belizeans will have to pay double to bail out Social Security because of UDP incompetence is an affront to every Belizean.”

The release added that Belizean employers and employees “should be outraged at the news that this organization is on the brink of collapse. Likewise, we should all condemn the SSB for its clear political interference, manipulation and gross incompetence, which are at the heart of SSB’s financial woes.”

Continuing, the press release took aim at SSB’s Dr. Young, saying: “If there is any doubt that the UDP sees the SSB as a convenient cash-cow, that doubt is dispelled by the revelation of a Cabinet Paper sent by SSB CEO, Dr. Colin Young, to his political masters in Belmopan, that paper entitled: ‘How the U.D.P. can leverage S.S.B.’s sustainability to gain political advantage.’”

“The PUP is appalled at that outright political hijacking of an organization built by and sustained on the backs of the hard-working Belizean people.”

Dr. Young, in defending himself, told the media today that when he went to present the paper to Cabinet, they understood the financial picture of the SSB fund, but “they were also very concerned about the political implications. This is a political decision to raise contributions, and they were worried about what that would mean in terms of their political capital.”

Dr. Young went on to explain that he told the SSB about the government’s position and that as the CEO, “I had to address the political side of a political decision to the government. I had a hard time convincing the Prime Minister about this issue. In fact, the political decision would have been to not do anything, and let it pass on to some subsequent administration…”

Dr. Young said that his primary concern was the safeguarding of the SSB fund, and that apart from the memo, he lobbied Cabinet ministers personally on a one-on-one basis.

“At the end of the day, however, when you’re talking to the political directorate, it is a political decision. And I felt obliged to point out to the Government that if you do nothing — meaning if you did not agree to the position taken by the social partners and SSB, that there will be political implications for that, and if you did something, there will also be political implications for doing that,” Dr. Young explained.

The SSB Chairman, Doug Singh, who is supportive of CEO Young’s position, declared that the “SSB is not broke.” He said that it is the largest fund in Belize and has grown from $272 million in 2008 when the UDP came into power, to $459 million in 2018.

Singh attributed the ten-year growth of the SSB fund to the “prudent management” of the SSB Investment Committee.

Singh said, “…the investments have been prudently done, reviewed, managed and implemented, so much so that today, the investment portfolio at the Social Security is 99.4% or so, [that it is] performing.”

Singh highlighted a number of failed investments under PUP governments, and said that the growth that the SSB has been experiencing has been under the UDP government.

   “The reason that the Social Security is now requesting adjustments in social security contributions is simply because while the fund continued to grow, so does benefit payments, in particular, in pensions. There are more and more people retiring because the fund is now getting to a mature level,” Singh said.

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