Trinidad & Tobago

National insurance contributions soon to be increased

Port-of-Spain ó Some national insurance contributions made by employees and employers are expected to jump by close to 50% in the next six weeks, according to media estimates of information provided by private sector sources.

For salaried workers earning at least (TT) $4,377 a month, the information indicates the total national insurance (NI) contributions would increase from the current level of $68.04 per week per employee to about $100 per week.

If confirmed, the increases would mean the NI contribution of employers would go up from $45.36 per week to $66 and employee contributions would jump from $22.68 to $33.33.

Private sector sources said the government proposes to fund the increase in NI benefits by increasing the total contribution rate from the current level of 8.4 percent to 9.9 percent from October 1.

Also expected to go up is the income ceiling, from its current level of $3,510 a month to $4,377.

During the local government election campaign two months ago, Prime Minister Patrick Manning told cheering crowds national insurance pensions would be increased to $1,000 along with other benefits.

The Prime Minister did not say the contributions made by working people and their employers would also increase.

The Governmentís proposal to have employees and employers fund the increase took private sector groups by surprise.

Private sector groups understood the Prime Ministerís statement about increased benefits to mean the government would fund the increase.

Not so, said an official of the National Insurance Board, pointing out the NI system is funded by contributions made by employers (two-thirds), contributions made by employees (one-third) and the NIBís investment of surplus funds. The official said the NIBís recent actuarial review supported an increase in benefits to $1,000 but recommended the increase in the contribution rate and the income ceiling.

Because employers pay two-thirds of NI contributions, any hike in those contributions is going to affect the bottom line of employers, especially those with a large number of employees.

Joan Ferreira, chief executive of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, speaking through a spokesman said: "We are presently reviewing the presentation made by the NIB, and thereafter will make our comments to the respective parties."

Linda Besson, chief executive of the ECA, declined comment after consulting with the chairman of the organisation.

Speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference last week, Manning said the government had given a commitment to increase the NI benefits and "that commitment will be honoured." Asked if the government had quantified the cost of the increase, Manning said it, had but he did not have the details at his fingertips.

Violent crimes forcing Trinis to seek safety in foreign lands

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Of late kidnappings have been especially worrying for families and business people alike. For the year kidnappers have demanded (Can) $14.6 million for the safe release of 33 kidnap victims, police said; of that sum $475,000 was paid. Thirty-one of the 33 victims have been returned to their families, but Damien Schneider, 35, a former national chess player, was murdered and another, Darrel Chotoo, 25, of El Socorro, San Juan, is feared dead. Police have not yet found his body, but were informed that his body was dumped in a swamp north of the Caroni River on June 30.

National Security Minister Chin Lee said the "mastermind" behind the high profile kidnappings, Sheldon "Skelly" Lovell, 27, is wanted for only one kidnapping involving two people, Yves Ayoung Chee and Benedict Barette. They were kidnapped on Marli Street, New Town, Port-of-Spain, on July 17 and released after 10 and nine days, respectively. Police said ransoms were paid. Ayoung Chee is the 18-year-old son of Dr Wilson Ayoung Chee of Scott Street, St Clair.

Former Special Reserve Police Reginald Gibson, 30, of Phase Four, Beetham Gardens, and Kenny Bonnett, 24, of 144 Eastern Main Road, Laventille, were charged with falsely imprisoning and kidnapping Ayoung Chee and Barette. The men who kidnapped Ayoung Chee and Barette used what sounded like the siren from a police car. The gunmen also pretended to be police officers.

Following that report, Transport Commissioner Nathaniel Douglas announced at a hastily called press conference on August 2 to ban flashing blue lights except for those approved for the policeís use.

The crime situation is worrying Trinidadians to the point where several of them have said they are seriously considering sending their families abroad for their own safety. Such as used car dealer Aran Kissoodan, who was kidnapped on February 23 and released after a (Can) $250,000 ransom was paid. Following his release, Kissoodanís family said they were so traumatised by the incident that they are seriously considering migrating.

UNC MP Dr Fuad Khan said he doesnít feel safe. "I could possibly stay and fight, but for the sake of the safety of my family, thereís a compelling desire to get them out of here before the crime calamity hits," he said.

Attorney Randy Depoo, whose speciality is in immigration, said: "Iíve been involved in moving several prominent families out of Trinidad and Tobago and into the US since last year."

He said some clients have asked for his help in getting their families out while they stay in Trinidad to run their businesses. Others are arranging for their children to leave.

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