Dewitt vonBallmoos, Liberia’s Committed Administrator, Taking Social Security to an Improved Level
It seems unbelievable the level of administrative services being provided by the current leadership at the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP); providing enjoyable services to the people of Liberia, including housing and health services worth commending, as Liberians pondered over the nationalistic works of its leadership team headed by Dewitt vonBallmoos.
When one thinks of the level of uncountable services being provided over the years by vonBallmoos’ NASSCORP administration which is not just for the retired persons, the question raises as to what magic being applied by this administration to bringing a unique pride to the people of this nation, Liberia through the innovative of the management at NASSCORP.
Beneficiaries of NASSCORP’s huge packages have won the hearts of many despite of numerous challenges in the nation’s economic sojourn, this corporation is doing all in its powers to meeting up with its statuary obligation with many of its beneficiaries, mainly retirees are expressing gratitude to the management for putting food on their tables, and making sure that their children are lined up in school.
Prior to its developmental drive, NASSCORP has always made it its duty to providing huge benefits to abled employees when they are disabled, and to their survivor if they ever met their demise, while medical care is being provided to them and their dependents for risks that could occur decades before retirement.
The world as a global village, and Liberia being a member, has subscribed to this importance life changing tenets to keep the hopes of it citizens alive. Social security, as a modem method of social protection against the contingencies of sickness, employment injury and death, has become a concept which no serious government or country can ignore; the Liberian Government holds humanitarianism to be a corner-stone of its social welfare policy, and thus adopted social program.
But never has the social security program in Liberia been so transformed since its establishment in 1975, as under the vibrant leadership of Dewitt vonBallmoos. Mr. vonBallmoos who served as deputy director general of the agency before been promoted to the director general position, has moved NASSCORP to another level, putting the agency on parity with others on the African continent.
Five Year Strategic Plan Yielding Success
The Act creating the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP), first passed by the National Legislature on July 10, 1975, and re-instituted in 1980, by the People Redemption Council’s (PRC) Decree No.14, provides future financial security for insured employees and their dependents.
This provision applies in the event of loss of natural ability to earn income, temporarily or permanently due to work-related injury, occupational disease, old-age, invalidity or death. The Act considers NASSCORP as a caring and responsive social security institution, providing for its covered population.
Beginning in the 1980’s various managements began setting the basis for the herculean task enshrined in the act establishing NASSCORP. The Employment Injury Scheme (EIS) was launched on February 1, 1980, followed by the National Pension Scheme (NPS) in 1988. As the corporation began implementing the NPS, a devastating civil war raged which disrupted it activities. The corporation’s problem deepened as successive factional governments, from 1991 to 2005, took charge but failed to develop a blueprint or earmark programs or projects that would have developed the institution as envisioned in the 1975 act.
Following the cessation of hostilities and democratic election in 2005, the President-elect, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, upon inauguration in January 2006, constituted a management team with Mr. Francis M. Carbah as Director-General and Mr. Dewitt vonBallmoos as Deputy Director-General. The new team took over the corporation when it was saddled with myriads of problems including loss of assets, obsolete laws, dwindling sources of contributions, backlog of benefit arrears, lack of effective leadership and a bloated staff.
Two years after assuming authority of NASSCORP the management drew up a Strategic Plan in early 2008 that was printed and distributed to workers, stakeholders and others. Major provisions in the plan included developing and installing an electronic database establishing a modern document management system, and streamlining and automating claims payment process.
Other targets included re-documenting contributing employers and employees, establishing a central facility for storing partners’ documents, undertaking an actuarial review of existing structure and organizing stakeholders’ consultations to build consensus.
The plan also called for designing and conducting a vigorous public information and education drive for partners, rebuilding the financial management and accounting system, establishing a robust and risk-analysis framework to increase investment and undertaking a vigorous human resource development to raise staff performance level.
In order to fulfill the purpose of the social security program and to build and sustain the trust and confidence of stakeholders and the public, the plan targets effective service delivery by making benefit payments reliable, regular and prompt. In 2008 the management began the process with thorough verification of beneficiaries’ payrolls to make sure those showing up were the rightful beneficiaries.
The process was followed by the introduction of a direct bank payment service described as an efficient and risk-reduction measure to safeguard the interest of beneficiaries and the corporation. As a result, beneficiaries have no reason to come to NASSCORP’s office to receive checks since payments go directly to banking institutions around the country at the end of each month.
The next scheme introduced was a biometric identification program, a protective measure intended to avoid duplicity of beneficiaries’ payrolls and accelerate benefit payment. During the exercise, bio-data or each and every beneficiary was recorded into the corporation’s database. This has reduced the burden of verifying or distinguishing between identical names and has also curtailed the pilfering of beneficiaries’ accounts by unscrupulous individuals.
The first phase of the biometric exercise commenced in 2010 targeting 6,000 persons. Of this number, 3,500 beneficiaries underwent the exercise within a year. This was a clear indication that many of those on the payrolls tampered with accounts of beneficiaries. A second biometric was conducted in 2013 to update records in the database, the end of which recorded 6,764 beneficiaries as of December 2013.
Benefit payments have been unhindered with a cumulative amount of US$15.96 million from 2008 to 2013. Disbursements were as follows:
- US$ 1.56 million for 2008
- US$ 1.90 million for 2009
- US$ 3.20 million for 2010
- US$ 2.70 million for 2011
- US$ 3.00 million for 2012
- US$ 3.60 million for 2013
In order to effectively respond to inquiries from beneficiaries, a service section was established that provides easy access for verifying of claims or benefits. The process also reduced the number of complaints from beneficiaries.
Registration Record System
In 2009, the corporation began automation of its core insurance functions -registration, contribution records and claims processing. The process started with registration record system under which the corporation began re-documenting all those registered under the scheme, as well as new entries.
Each insured employee was issued Form-2, accompanied by Form-3 to be filled by employer. Both forms were returned to NASSCORP’s Registration Department and were entered into the database. The system then generated a nine-digit insurance number for employee and a six digit code number for employer.
The re registration record system was reconstituted because of the difficulties it encountered and the need to rebuild it. Moreover, the antiquated mode of record-keeping was phased out and replaced with a new technological method. The Registration Department reported that as of September 2014, membership (employees) under the schemes increased by years as follow:
- 69,328 enrollments in 2010
- 85,999 enrollments in 2011
- 100,131 enrollments in 2012
- 114,611 enrollments in 2013
Contribution Records System
Another feature of the process was the automation of the contribution records system. A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet payroll was developed and employers were educated on how to transmit their payrolls to NASSCORP through the Internet or on flash disk, on a monthly basis. The system then automatically posts the individual contributions to the appropriate accounts.
This was followed by the setting up of a contribution records database system which has provided NASSCORP easy availability to much needed information as well as efficient and reliable access to contribution records of over 100,000 employees in the database. The database allows the corporation to begin issuing statements of earnings and contribution records to hundreds of employees, especially in the private sector. For the public sector it’s difficult to include most government employees, into the system because the Ministry of Finance is yet to submit detailed individual contributions payment records of ministries and agencies.
It is important to note that MWETANA, a data technology company and NASSCORP’s IT Consultant, designed a record network system that is being used by the Insured Record Section of the Contribution Records Department with capacity to digitally store files of 20,000 beneficiaries and 15,000 registered employees.
With the introduction of this system, the section is using the Beneficiary Processing Management System (BPMS) to efficiently and effectively perform its task of labeling to ensure proper identification.
The NASSCORP automation development system is a custom-built application, designed to work specifically the way NASSCORP operates in accordance with the existing laws. Basically, the core function of the system is to automate the registration process and keep track of contributions and benefits paid on a monthly basis.
The automation development program has put an end to the problem of inadequacy of record-keeping. The system is now protecting the interest of the corporation as well as employers and employees covered under the scheme, including new entries.
In order to maintain and strengthen the gains, a vigorous human resource development program was undertaken to raise or improve the performance of staff and to reinforce the numerous reforms initiated over the years.
In a bid to maintain and boost the existing system, several staff members of the IT Department underwent training locally and in the sub-region, including Ghana, at the India Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT in Accra, Ghana. Also hundreds of employees from various departments underwent local, sub-regional and international training, acquiring advance technical and strategic managerial skills.
Management also intimated that prioritizing human resource development to ensure that employees conform or respond to growing changes in social protection program around the world. As a result, employees are empowered and are adequately catering to the various reforms initiated by management, designed to move Liberia’s social security program to an appreciated level.
Public Education Program
At the same time, the Division of Public Information, Education and Training (PIET) embarked on a massive public awareness initiative. This move was necessary considering the numerous reforms that make it necessary to educate employers and employees on the new developments so as to enhance public trust, efficiency and productivity.
Besides radio and television programs and person-to-person education initiatives carried out among workers at various entities, the division produced several manuals, including Employers’ and Employees’ Guides, aimed at providing adequate education about employees’ roles and obligations under the schemes.
To broaden the scope of the educational campaign, the division organized and executed interactive forums in several parts of the country including, Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Bomi, Bong and Nimba Counties. These exercises enabled members of the insured population in these areas to keep abreast of the schemes and new developments in the social security program.
These exercises no doubt, significantly contributed to cementing the relationship between the insured population and the corporation and resulted in an increase in contributions collection.
Bold Investment Portfolios
In line with its mandate, the management crafted an investment policy and strategic document with a portfolio structured into short and long-term investments that encompasses private equities, commercial enterprise, residential and commercial properties, loans, trade, finance and certificates of deposit. Provisions of the portfolio were vigorously implemented over the years.
Following the reorganization of the Investment Division, and adhering to strategic investment policy guidelines and bold initiatives with support and approval of the Board of Directors, the management has increased the investment portfolio specifically in four categories: Real Estate, Equity, Loans and Guarantee, and Commercial Enterprise.
Real property represents 72 percent of the portfolio that includes the Paynesville Commercial Complex at the ELWA Junction, commercial and residential properties in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, leased to Arcelor Mittal; a 16-bedroom guesthouse in Voinjama, Lofa County; a guesthouse in Kakata, Margibi County, and numerous land acquisitions strategically positioned within Monrovia and its immediate environs.
Financial assets account for 28 percent of the portfolio that include one million shares at LBDI, US$1 million debentures shares in Cellcom and approximately US$ 10 million in fixed income deposited at various local and commercial banks. The corporation also extended loans to the Morris American Rubber Corporation (MARCO), the Premier Development Housing Project and the DU Development Project which total US$2.3 million.
The management team constituted in 2006 by Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf inherited a non-performing investment asset-based portfolio of US$ 4.7 million. Management increased the portfolio from US$ 4.7 million in 2006 to US$ 33.7 million as of June 2014. This represents an increase of US$27 million.
Actuarial Valuation of Schemes
The act creating NASSCORP provides for valuation of the schemes after five years to ensure the continuous viability of the corporation. The valuation process sought to derive recommendations on strategies designed to enhance or strengthen compliance, coverage, stakeholders’ communication, and investment.
Against this background, the management, through the Board of Directors, on February 10, 2010, entered an agreement with a consortium of actuaries from Stallion Consultant (Ghana) Ltd.; Alexander Forbes Consulting Actuaries (Nigeria) Ltd. and Alexander Forbes Financial Services (East Africa) Ltd.; to undertake an actuarial review of NASSCORP in accordance with Clause 48 of the act establishing NASSCORP.
Following a series of visits from the consultants, including interactions between the actuarial firms and NASSCORP, the consultants from Stallion and Alexander Forbes. in September 2012, came to Liberia and officially turned over a report to management.
The corporation is engaged in a vigorous exercise of addressing recommendations and strategies contained in the report. Part of the exercise is designed to construct a comprehensive framework that would administer Government’s Pension Program.
The impressive improvement experienced over the years can be attributed to the cautious implementation of or adherence to the five-year Strategic Plan that put NASSCORP on par with other relevant social security institutions on the African continent and in the world as a whole.
Construction of modern Diagnostic Medical Center
Liberia has not had medical diagnostic center for years. But the farsightedness of Mr. vanballmoos and his professional team at the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) funded and established a multi-million-dollar Medical Diagnostic Center. The medical facility comprises a three-story imaging/laboratory building and adjacent four-story clinic/residence building.
The state-of-art facility complements and provide much needed high-level laboratory and imaging diagnosis to thousands of citizens who unfortunately die as a result of a common undiagnosed disease. The facility will also save Liberians huge amount of money spent on foreign travels for medical purposes and treatment.
It will further enable technology and specialized skills transfer to local Liberian medical technicians contributing to capacity buildings well as encourage and attract the attention of Liberian medical professionals abroad to return home. The man behind all of these success stories at NASSCORP is the indefatigable Mr. Dewitt vonBallmoos, considered by most Liberians as the real humanitarian.