Charles Jr: No fraud probe now at MLSS but…

MINISTER of Labour and Social Security Pearnel Charles Jr has reiterated his claim that there is no fraud probe taking place into the operation of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) at this time.

But the minister has not ruled out the possibility that the scheme could have been defrauded as reported by the Jamaica Observer just over one week ago.

Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday, Charles Jr argued that the issue of a fraud probe and the possibility of irregularities in NIS payments are separate issues which should not be confused.

“We have dealt with [issue] number one and we can categorically state — because we are the relevant persons that are in issue in that statement — we can say that we are not conducting a probe as has been published. That is false. It is not taking place right now,” declared Charles Jr.

“For number two, which is if there is an incident of fraud I don’t think that anybody can categorically state that there is or is not unless there is an adequate investigation that would take place to access that [information].

“So what we have said at the ministry is, we can tell you, that we are not engaged in a fraud probe and we can tell you that we have robust internal mechanisms that are currently being engaged to make sure that if there is incident we can identify it, if there are weaknesses we identify it and that we address it,” added Charles Jr.

He noted that his ministry officials have already indicated that if there is a belief that there is an incident, or incidents of fraud they want to identify it and are willing to seek external support to identify it.

“We are living in a world where we must be able to uplift and hold up transparency and accountability [and] for that reason we took serious note… of the comments that were made and I think it is important to note that we have opened up, welcomed any examination that is required to ensure that Jamaica is clear in terms of where we are in terms of the two issues,” said the minister.

He added: “Any potential or possible matter of fraud, or any activity that is untoward, is something that we take seriously and that we ourselves would be examining and that is why we actually have an annual internal audit and we have had a scheduled routine audit taking place, which is in completion now, because the ministry, like other ministries, has a process on inherent accountability which we at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security take very, very seriously.”

According to Charles Jr, the ministry is now continuing and completing its internal audit of all programmes with the effort to identify any weaknesses and more importantly, to make sure that it can address and strengthen its programmes as part of efforts to always improve.

The labour and social minister was presenting his second response to claims by Observer sources that internal auditors at the ministry are probing what is believed to be a scheme used to defraud millions of dollars from the NIS.

The sources claimed that the fraud caused the postmaster general to pay out more money than was disbursed through the NIS.

According to the sources, the money paid out is more than twice the amount which should have been paid based on the pension order books issued by the ministry, and could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

News of the irregularities came days before pensioners started receiving increased payments of between 23 and 76 per cent.

At Wednesday’s post-Cabinet media briefing Charles Jr described the increased payments as an important step by his ministry.