MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors Calvin Lyn has stopped burials of unclaimed bodies, as he awaits news on the estimated $100 million owed to nine government-contracted funeral homes by the Ministry of National Security.
Lyn also told the Jamaica Observer that other contractors across the island have shared word that they, too, are refusing to carry out pauper burials. Lyn, the proprietor of Lyn’s Funeral Home, said that the stance comes as a result of the lengthy wait as the nine contractors are said to be owed monies for work done over the last six years.
Lyn’s Funeral Home is the government-contracted funeral home for Manchester.
Lyn said that this refusal has caused a “backlog” in the burial of unclaimed bodies. Up to mid-November, Lyn said that he had 20 unclaimed bodies waiting to be buried.
“The position is that the contractors across the island would have a backlog. I represent the vast majority of contractors except two, and the information I have is that the backlog at the moment concerns the paupers or unclaimed remains,” Lyn said.
“To my knowledge, most of the contractors are not carrying out any burials even though we get the instructions, because we do not know who is going to pay us — we can’t work for nothing,” he added.
Lyn, while arguing that the monies owed should have been paid over a long time ago, told the Sunday Observer that he has made attempts to get an update from the Ministry of National Security and its agency, the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine (IFSLM).
“I sent a letter via email and I sent the original by courier to an officer in the Ministry of National Security’s Institute of Forensic unit. The information to me is that they are trying to get us paid before the year ends. They said they don’t want it to go to 2024, and I told the officer that it should have not even reached 2023,” Lyn explained.
At the same time, Lyn said that there has been some level of confusion as to which government agency is responsible for paying these monies forward. He believes that this might be a factor in the lengthy delay of payment.
“There is a problem with the ministry and the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine; it also has to do with the police in each parish. We were told by the forensic unit representative that when the contractors bury these unclaimed remains, having received the instruction from the police in each parish, then the police should pay us,” he complained.
This is not the first time that Lyn has voiced concern over the monies owed as last November he demanded that the Government, through the national security ministry, “pay up”. While responding to Lyn’s appeal, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security Courtney Williams said an audit was being done to determine how much money is owed to the contractors.
Williams also noted that there are limitations to the contracts between IFSLM and the funeral homes.
“I am not going to get into any particular details on this now but IFSLM would have contracts with the funeral homes to take care of certain aspects of the matter, right up to the point where it would have left the remit of the forensic lab. In that case, the contracts that the forensic lab has with the funeral homes do not include the burial of paupers… The lab wouldn’t have anything more to do with the storage in the funeral home once the lab has done what it needs to do in terms of the forensics,” he said.
The former permanent secretary, however, did not reveal the other government agency with which dialogue is ongoing for the responsibility of pauper burials.
“We are actually in conversation with [the] other government entity that may have responsibility once the forensic part of it ends… I can’t go into any details of it right now,” he said.
In the meantime, managing director of House of Tranquility Funeral Home in Kingston, Joseph Cornwall said he is “impatiently waiting” on the monies owed. However, Cornwall said that, unlike Lyn, he continues to carry out these burials as it is impossible to store the bodies indefinitely. Tranquility is the government-contracted funeral home for three parishes — Kingston, St Andrew, and St Thomas.
Cornwall told the Sunday Observer that his funeral home is currently owed “a substantial amount”.
“We are impatiently waiting because it is about time. We cannot keep these bodies indefinitely so we have to be doing the burials while we await payment,” said Cornwall.
In the meantime, Cornwall said he is hoping that the issues surrounding the payment will be sorted out soon, as the funeral homes are currently faced with the short end of the stick. He said that House of Tranquility Funeral Home has carried out 32 pauper burials since the start of the year.
“As far as I was told, they were waiting on the submission of bills, which we have submitted, so we are still impatiently waiting for them to do the rest. We need [the monies owed] because we have been footing all of the expenses for quite some time now so we need the payment,” Cornwall said.
A request was made, through email, to the Ministry of National Security for an update on the matter but none was forthcoming as the Sunday Observer prepared for press.