“I am therefore proud … that with the passage of the National Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2016 the Office of the Complaints Commissioner has deemed that the Ministry and Department have now successfully complied with the OCC and this report is now officially closed by their Office.”
— Employment Minister Tara Rivers, June 24
Hold off on the champagne, the horns and the hats.
For background, in 2010, then-Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams published a bombshell report showing that 670 local businesses were delinquent in paying their employee pensions. Three years later, Ms. Williams demonstrated that number had grown to 1,144 businesses.
Ms. Williams’s 2010 report included 21 recommendations that the government should follow to address weaknesses in the law, in the system and in enforcement of private pensions requirements.
Before the Legislative Assembly last week, Employment Minister Tara Rivers applauded her ministry for implementing all of those recommendations (except one that was withdrawn by the complaints commissioner’s office), and has effectively declared that, in regard to Cayman’s problem with unpaid pensions — “Case closed.”
You may have read the above information in a news story we published on Page 8 of Wednesday’s Compass. There’s a reason the story appeared in the inside of the newspaper, instead of being splashed across the front page in 80-point type: The problem of employers not paying their employees’ pensions (and, more despicably, sometimes stealing their employees’ contributions to their pension plans) has not, indeed, been solved at all.
Here are three reasons why we are keeping our sparkling beverages on ice:
First, the letter from Acting Complaints Commissioner Bridgette von Gerhardt instructing the ministry that it has complied with all of her office’s recommendations is based, largely, on the new National Pensions Law that legislators approved this May. The trouble is, the new law is not yet in effect, nor have the all-important accompanying regulations yet been drafted. To declare that the new law has accomplished anything is, in our opinion, extremely premature.
Second, one of the major issues identified in the 2010 report, perhaps of even greater importance than shortcomings in the law, was the non-enforcement of the law. There is a critical difference between merely passing a new law — even if it’s superior to the old one — and enforcing the new law. The proof is in the prosecution.
Lastly, as interesting as we find the number 20 (as in how many recommendations the complaints commissioner put forward), the key number from Ms. Williams’s report is far greater: 1,144 — specifically, the number of businesses identified as being delinquent in their pension payments.
No one should declare victory, or accept such a declaration, until that number of 1,144 has been whittled down to zero, or near to zero, and then is kept as low as possible through enforcement, the courts, fines and penalties, and, if necessary, the police and prison.
To re-employ Ms. Williams’s phrase from her 2010 report, the private pensions system is still a “ticking time-bomb” that hasn’t yet been defused.