Ties of cooperation continue to grow between National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) and the umbrella body of local media practitioners, the Sierra Leone Association of journalists (SLAJ).
Areas of cooperation rest on the dissemination of information of NASSIT activities by media platforms and payment of contribution to the scheme and a possible NASSIT investment in the media.
It is premised on the theme: The Role of The Media in the Enhancement of NASSIT Scheme. NASSIT is an institution established by the NASSIT Act of 2001 to administer Sierra Leone’s pension scheme, to provide retirement and other benefits to meet the contingency needs of workers and their dependants as well as other related matters.
The scheme is compulsory for formal sector workers where an employer-employee relationship exists. The NASSIT Act places obligation on an employer to ensure that an employee is registered with the Trust and contributions are paid on time on behalf of the employee.
However, voluntary membership for workers in the informal sector and the self-employed is legally permissible. At a press dinner held at Golden Tulip Hotel in Freetown, key stakeholders including NASSIT Director-General, the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Chairman and SLAJ President made statements on behalf of their organisations.
Speaking at the ceremony, NASSIT Director-General, Mr Fuad Daboh saw the dinner as a forum for togetherness with the aim of fostering excellent relationship and understanding of the work of the scheme. It is also a platform for engendering strong commitment to and support for NASSIT programmes especially in the area of information dissemination.
In his speech, Mr Daboh did not lose sight of the obligations formal sector institutions owe NASSIT especially timely payment of contributions for their workers.
“Employers are required to pay employees’ contributions on or before the 15th of the ensuing month. Otherwise, it will attract interests and penalties,” Mr Daboh explains.
As clearly indicated by the NASSIT Director-General, the last 28 months was a period of achievements for the trust although challenges could not be ruled out.
Since his appointment in 2018, Mr Daboh has made frantic effort in putting the operations and benefits at the forefront of the business to ensure realisation of the reasons for which the scheme is set.
“In September, this year, we have a cumulative figure of Le17, 730 registered establishments, 245, 649 registered members of the scheme,” he said.
Mr Daboh also informed the audience that the number of pensioners on NASSIT payroll, apart from government pensioners, now stands at 24, 996. The Trust, he says, is currently administering payments to the pensioners.
The number of inspectors, he went on, had been increased and provided with tools to make them effective and efficient. “We are seeing gains as the inspectors are knocking on the doors of the institutions,” he expressed satisfaction.
The launching of the telephone hotline, he says, which is available on phones, Africell and Orange networks to build happy customers who can reach the Trust from the comfort of their homes is another reckonable achievement.
The telephone hotline also aims at providing opportunities for the public to easily contact the Trust in respect of queries, concerns and suggestions. “We at NASSIT strongly believe that the customers are the reasons for our existence. We will do everything possible to accord them a pleasant and timely service at all times,” he stressed.
An effective Pigeon Hole System, the Director-General said, had also been introduced to effectively monitor benefit claims processes.
The claims process is the end activity of the Trust, and it is the main activity where the rights and livelihoods of pensioners are anchored.
A “first of its kind” customer service mobile clinic also has been organised with locations at Miatta Conference Centre, New England Ville and Sierra Leone Postal Services (SALPOST).
The Mobile Clinic was a one-stop and outreach service to customers outside the normal office setting.
The clinic marked an important milestone in the long journey to achieve the Trust’s quest of maintaining an excellent service to customers.
The NASSIT Chief however pointed out some challenges which continue to weigh down the Trust.
Incomplete documentation with regards members’ data, inconsistent members’ records, outdated records as well as infrastructural deficiencies and integrity issues are challenges, the Director-General, says, confront the Trust.
“These challenges are the major causes of delays in benefit processing, and they undermine the objective of the social security scheme,” he said.
As the Challenges continue to exist, management of the Trust continues to explore practical solutions to make the institution a viable one. Towards that direction, Mr Daboh made it clear that it was against that backdrop that a project known as ‘54-Plus’ was launched to interface with workers aged between 54 and 59yrs who are potential cases for either early or full retirement.
The objective of such interface, he continues, is to ensure that the workers’ data are updated before they apply for retirement benefits.
He says although NASSIT is still hunted by generic problems, some are sector-specific with a particular focus on the teachers, civil servants the army, the police and the private sector.
As a way of rectifying such problems, he went on, a nationwide sensitisation campaign was organised for the army and the police in July this year.
The NASSIT Director-General assured that the sensitisation programme would be rolled out to other sectors of the membership in the not-too-distant future.
In his contribution, SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla also touched on the beneficial relationship NASSIT seeks to foster with the media, and the media’s role in enhancing the work of the Trust.
The role of the media generally, he says, is to inform, educate and entertain noting that in this instance the media has the duty of making sure people understand the NASSIT scheme and its benefits.
In a bid to encourage the media to fulfill the objective, SLAJ President called on media institutions to raise the necessary awareness about the operations and benefits of NASSIT.
“We are to inform the people about the scheme, educate them about the benefit, and how they go about in making sure their basic rights are respected,” he emphasised.
He however called on media institutions to comply with the NASSIT Act through by registering their employees with the scheme, and regularly pay their contributions.
“We do not only protect our businesses when we comply, but also ensure the future livelihoods of reporters and other media workers,” he opined.
He also reminded media institutions about their role of monitoring the activities and operations of NASSIT to prevent poor investment of the people’s money.
Mr Nasralla also countenanced challenges faced by the Trust when it was initially set up.
“Before now, People who retired from employment received pensions which were ridiculously as low as Le250, 000. With the current economic trend, you can barely survive with that amount in a day or two,” Mr Nasralla looked back.
He however noted that the Trust is now making remarkable moves for incredible development noting that those who were not aware of the benefit of NASSIT have now started to realise what they have been missing.
Now that some people are graduating from the scheme and receiving handsome benefits, they are beginning to realise what they have been missing.
“Now with NASSIT, some beneficiaries receive Le3-5M a month. The sum has huge implications on the socio-economic life of the state,” he said.
It is the personal belief of the SLAJ President that with a good retirement package, the tendency of public and civil servants to steal from state coffers would be considerably suppressed.
“I personally believe that public servants steal public funds to ensure their social security after their retirement or in the case of any emergency,” he said.
The NASSIT scheme, he says, discourages graft because people have something to look forward to after retirement.
The call for NASSIT investment in the media was also loudly and emphatically made by Mr Nasralla in the face of the repeal of the criminal defamatory libel law.
“The Trust has to invest what they collect so that they money cannot lie down idly there in their accounts,” he appealed.
He says the Media are now open for business and calls on NASSIT to look at areas of possible investment.
For him, the NASSIT can partner with SLAJ to invest in printing facilities as the country prides itself with over a hundred registered newspapers.
“We can set up a printing facility, and use the Lungi model as a reference,” he suggested.
NASSIT, Mr Nasralla Went on, would invest and operate the business, and later hand over to SLAJ after they had recovered their money.
He also suggested that NASSIT could go beyond printing facilities to invest in printing materials by way of a joint venture company with SLAJ.
Making a strong case for the NASSIT investment, the SLAJ President made it clear that almost all printing materials are imported to the country.
He hopes that with A NASSIT investment, Media institutions would be saved from the hands of “unscrupulous businessman.”
“I will ensure that newspapers buy from us, and own the project,” he assured.
Making his voice heard during the press dinner was the Chairman of IMC, the Country’s Media Regulator, George Koyama.
Mr Koyama informs the audience that the media are free at last as no journalist would be arrested and detained since the 55-year old law has been repealed.
He however cautioned media practitioners that the media freedom is not free, as it goes with an obligation.
The obligation, he says is responsibility and professionalism.