Pension Programme open to fraud – AG
… Ministry working to close loopholes.
Although the amount of money the average pensioner collects each month may seem insignificant, for almost 50,000 senior citizens it means something.
Pensions are managed under the Old Age Pension Programme which is administered by the Director of Social Services at the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security. But a report released by the Auditor General late last year has shown the programme to be vulnerable to fraud from a number of avenues including the payment of pensions as well as data entry.
In the report, AG Deodat Sharma lays out the findings of a Value For Money Audit undertaken by his officers and recommends corrective actions that the DSS, Whentworth Tanner and by extension the Ministry, may take to close these loopholes.
Every person who applies to receive their pension must meet certain eligibility criteria with regards to age, citizenship and residency yet according to the report, it was discovered from interviews with Ministry officials that “no eligibility checks were undertaken on application forms from 14 villages in Region No. 8”. However, the same paragraph also said, “There was evidence on file that applications were processed in accordance with the eligibility criteria now being used.”
At another point the report examines the systems in place to monitor pension payments made to mediating parties and to verify the receipt of pensions by pensioners living in remote areas.
Here it was noted that the Ministry entrusted several Village Captains with monies on a quarterly basis to enable payments to pensioners living in remote areas.
These Captains were then required to submit signed coupons along with their own identification cards as well as those of the pensioners to the Ministry officials before uplifting the funds.
The report went on to say, however, that “the Ministry did not have systems in place to verify that pensioners in these areas were in receipt of their pensions, since reliance was placed on the honesty and integrity of the Captains to distribute the correct amounts to pensioners.” A finding that according to the AG created the “risk of irregularities occurring since payments may be made for ineligible, deceased or non-existent persons.”
The Old Age Pension Database was another area that was reviewed by the AG, and here there was a number of issues as well. Listed among them were the physical security of the location that houses the network on which the database can be found, and the sanitisation and updating of the database to account for new pensioners that need to be added as well as deceased ones who need to be removed from the system.
The Security and Control of Pension books were other areas examined by the AG’s team. Some of the major issues found here were the security of printing the pension books as well as their storage and distribution. The coupons in pensions have monetary value hence there is a need for adequate security controls over the books from their printing to the moment they are either in the hands of a pensioner or back in the care of the Ministry.
It was found that the Ministry did not “design, control nor have ownership of the software used to print pension books.” Instead it was found that the “supplier designed and owned the software”. The report went on to note that “Although the Ministry conducted security checks of the physical environment at the printery before entering into contractual agreements with the supplier, it did not have appropriate measures in place to monitor the printing process, the quality of OAP books and security of the software. It was also noted that the Ministry did not take responsibility for the collection of pension books from the printer nor the disposal of spoilt pension books.
It was also pointed out that while mobile pensioners were asked to report in person to retrieve their pension books, probation officers are entrusted with the pension books for those termed as shut-ins.
In the cases where these officers were not close to their District Offices, it was found that the storage of undistributed pension books overnight left much to be desired in the area of security since it was found that the books were being stored in boxes, the officers’ bags or briefcases in their residences, filing cabinets at their offices and even in Government Vehicles.
When Kaieteur News contacted the DSS for a comment on the findings of the Auditor General, Mr. Tanner noted that of the checklist of recommendations that was generated as a result of the AG’s report almost 80 percent of the items have been completed.