Social security ministry backtracks on NIS fraud probe

THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security has denied a Jamaica Observer report that a probe is now being conducted by its internal auditors into a suspected massive fraud involving the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

On Wednesday the Observer reported that internal auditors at the ministry are looking into what is believed to be a scheme which was used to defraud millions of dollars from the NIS.

According to Observer sources, the fraud has caused the postmaster general to pay out millions of dollars more than was disbursed through the NIS.

In a release on Wednesday, the ministry said it had not received any reports of fraudulent activity relating to the postmaster general paying out more money than was disbursed to the NIS.

“However, the ministry takes note of the article and considers these allegations serious. As such we are inviting external independent authorities to examine the allegations to ensure full transparency and accountability.

“The ministry is assuring the public that it takes the management of public resources seriously, and that it continues to implement strategies to ensure the efficient and effective performance of our systems,” said the late evening release.

But this statement was at odds with responses which the ministry had sent to the Observer on Monday.

In the e-mailed response, the ministry said questions which the Observer submitted in relation to the fraud were a matter that was currently under review and not yet finalised without denying the claims of the probe.

“However, we can say that a draft report has been received from our internal auditors. It is not prudent to provide a fulsome response based on a draft report, as the draft may be adjusted following further consultation with our technical officers and prior to the final report being submitted.

“Comments on this matter would not be prudent at this time as any conclusions drawn will be based on incomplete findings. Once the final report is received our technical officers will examine the findings to determine the appropriate next steps,” said the ministry.

The Observer had asked the ministry to respond to the questions:

1) What is the state of the probe to reconcile the pension payments by the ministry and what the institutions have paid out?

2) Can you say how much is the difference between the two figures?

3) Has there been any administrative action taken by the ministry while the probe is conducted?

4) Is the probe being done by internal or external auditors?

5) Do you have any idea when the reconciliation should be completed?

In the meantime, Opposition spokeswoman on labour and social security Dr Angela Brown Burke, on Wednesday expressed deep concern over the allegations regarding a pension fraud probe at the ministry.

“These reports are particularly disheartening as many pensioners have reported significant delays in receiving their already meagre payments due to a lack of funding within the ministry,” said Brown Burke.

“The public has a right to be promptly informed about the status of investigations regarding the fraud at the ministry. The Opposition is calling on the Government to expedite the investigation process and provide clear and transparent updates to the public in the interest of thoroughness and impartiality.

“The Opposition calls on the ministry to seek external assistance, such as engaging the expertise of the Office of the Auditor General to ensure a comprehensive examination of the matter,” added Brown Burke.

She charged that taking funds from the NIS is equivalent to robbing the most vulnerable members of our society.

“The Opposition is therefore urging the relevant authorities to take swift and decisive action in addressing these allegations in order to restore public confidence in this vital institution,” said Brown Burke.