ROSEAU, Dominica, May 5, 2020 (CMC) – Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, says his administration will not accept an eight million dollar proposal, from the Dominica Social Security (DSS), that would have been used to assist people, who have lost their jobs, as a result of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Under the proposal, the government would have added a EC$9.5 million dollars to help fund other aspects of its COVID-19 relief measures.
However, critics have been questioning the legality of the proposal, among other issues, and Opposition Leader, Lennox Linton, referred to the move as a raid on social security funds.
Last week, the DSS Director, Janice Jean-Jacques Thomas, said that the DSS is awaiting passage of the requisite legislative provision to give effect to a recommendation, by the institution, to provide relief to persons, who have been impacted, as a result of the disruption in business, due to Covid-19.
The Dominica Social Security — as the major pillar of Dominica’s social protection mechanism and like almost all other social security systems within CARICOM — felt it necessary to take action to recommend a measure that would provide a level of income relief to insure persons, who has been displaced from work, as a result of disruption in business, due to the coronavirus,” she added.
She said the International Labour Organization was consulted, on possible measures that could be adopted, at this time, to provide social protection to workers; and their recommendations included consideration of the introduction of an emergency unemployment benefit.
Jean-Jacques Thomas stated further that the firm of Morneau Shepell, in a special bulletin of Covid-19 for Caribbean Social Security Institutions, advised, “If you do not yet have an unemployment benefit, it is possible and feasible to introduce one, during a recession, without prior funding or additional contributions.”
But speaking on the state-owned DBS radio, Skerrit said that he had written to the DSS, indicating that his administration is no longer in favour of utilising the funds to assist persons, here.
“This fund was identified as a possible source for some of the resources required to assist persons, who lost their jobs. In this case, it would only be (for) people contributing to the DSS…and those who were not, the government would, in the period, assist them with some income support”.
Skerrit said, while, personally, he had his own “reservations about this, because I am very careful about the use of funds, which do not directly belong to the state”.
Further, Skerrit said he was disappointed that there “are attempts in the public domain to bring into disrepute and misrepresent the facts of the discussions”, regarding the proposals.
“If there are issues surrounding this, the position of the government is that, let us forget the whole idea of utilising these funds. There are so many other urgent and critical things to do, for me to be engaging myself in any…fight…I really don’t have the time.
“We have written to the Social Security …forget the whole idea. The good Lord will provide, and we will help these people from the government, directly,” Skerrit said.
The DSS Director had told reporters that the proposal was to utilize part of the reserves in the redundancy fund, which was established under the Protection of Employment Act and administered by the DSS on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, and part of the reserves of the DSS Employment Injury Branch, to offer income support, in the form of a temporary unemployment assistance benefit.