The ISSA Focal Point for the English-speaking Caribbean countries was launched in March 2021. This is the 18th regional structure of the International Social Security Association (ISSA). The focal point is headed by Stewart Haynes, Director of the National Insurance Services in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the ISSA asked him a few questions about this new role.
Why is it important for the region to have a focal point?
It is critical for this region to have a focal point to enhance and strengthen the collaboration and solidarity within ISSA for our regional social security systems to collectively benefit from the products and services of the Association. Our regional social security systems are experiencing many-sided challenges regarding the administration and sustainability of the systems, and we recognise this partnership with ISSA as an indispensable tool to fortify governance, administration, and institutional capabilities to better identify and respond to these challenges. In addition, as our regional social security systems expand in a changing and dynamic world, the establishment of the focal point will enable our system to better access innovations, best practices, international standards, and expertise that are tailored to the needs and context of the region. Further, the focal point is one of the most efficacious mechanisms to unify and coordinate the voices, needs and priorities of our nineteen countries to shape and integrate ISSA’s work programme and activities with the developments, realities, and experiences of our region. Lastly, an ISSA focal point in the region demonstrates and reinforces ISSA’s commitment to improve and strengthen the administration of our regional social security systems, thereby contributing to regional social and economic developments.
What motivated the National Insurance Services in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to host the focal point for the English-speaking Caribbean countries?
As a Bureau member of ISSA, representing the English-speaking social security systems, I have first-hand knowledge and experience of the significant benefits and advantages that the other seventeen regional structures are receiving from the functioning and operationalisation of an ISSA’s focal point. Accordingly, I was energised to position our regional social systems to improve access to the practical knowledge, extensive network, activities, products and services offered by ISSA through this focal point arrangement. Further, I recognised the importance of international cooperation and strategic linkage with ISSA to the development and strengthening of the administration and governance of our social security systems. In addition, the unwavering support from my colleagues is important to ensure that our regional systems receive optimal value from their memberships with ISSA. Also, the willingness, dedication, and cooperation of the ISSA Secretariat in the negotiation stages influenced our decision to host the focal point for the English-speaking Caribbean countries.
I am committed to any process that will benefit social security in the region and it will also increase the visibility of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ social security system itself. Also, it reinforces the Government’s commitment to social security and the benefits that will accrue to citizens.
What would you say are the key similarities and differences in terms of social security systems within the region?
In the region, we are more similar than we are different in the context of social security systems. In this regard, we have established and fortified connections and working relationships within our regional social security fraternity. We have built a regional social security family. Our similarities include but are not limited to the following:
- Our systems operate in small and open economies that are vulnerable to external shocks including natural disasters.
- We are facing demographic challenges occasioned by population ageing and exacerbated by emigration among the working populations.
- Based on the current benefit and contribution provisions, the regional social security systems are facing long-term sustainability and intergenerational equity challenges.
- The regional social security systems have similar designs in the form of a Pay-As-You Go and defined-benefit systems that provide the region’s workers and their dependents with income security during times of sickness, maternity, injury, invalidity, disablement, retirement, and death.
- The regional systems are partially funded and typically adopt a scaled-premium method of financing. The main sources of financing are contributions and investment income.
- The systems have relatively good coverage for formal-sector workers but experience significant challenges to provide social protection for self-employed and informal sector workers.
- The governance structure, which involves a board, board committees and management, are common within the regional social security systems.
There are some notable differences among the regional social security systems that are centred around administrative and governance practices. For instance, there are administrative variations among the regional systems that include but are not limited to:
- The regional systems are at varying levels regarding the adaption and the utilization of technology in their administrative functions. Some countries are more advanced than others in the areas of digital maturity and digital transformation.
- The timing, scope, and scale of pension reform measures implemented by the regional social security systems vary across countries.
- There are differences in the investment management functions and practices in the region. The level of exposures to international financial markets and own-government investment securities varies across individual countries.
- There are differences in human capabilities including skill- sets in critical areas of risk management, investment, actuarial analysis and information and communication technology (ICT) in the region.
We will continue to work collaboratively and embrace functional cooperation in the administration of our regional social security systems.
What will be the key activities of the focal point in the coming year?
Our overarching goal is to access tailored and relevant products and services of ISSA that identify and respond to the needs, priorities, and realities of the region. Therefore, one of the principal activities will involve the conduct of a needs-assessment across individual social security systems, which would inform the work programme and activities for the region. In the meantime, we will advance the following key activities, which are aligned to the region’s priorities:
- An academy workshop on ISSA guidelines for Communication of Social Security Administration. This workshop would offer concrete and practical support to our regional administrators of social security in communication.
- Webinars facilitated by ISSA in the areas of risk management and business continuity and extension of social security coverage to self-employed and informal sector workers.
- ISSA representation and presentations at the next meeting of the Heads of regional social security systems to be facilitated by CARICOM Secretariat.
As the ISSA Focal point for the English-speaking Caribbean countries, we will liaise with the ISSA Secretariat and individual members of the nineteen regional countries to explore other pragmatic interventions for the promotion and development of social security in the region.