Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Cloud still hangs over COVID payouts

Published:Wednesday | December 2, 2020 | 12:19 AM
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

After declaring in June that it has withheld payments in the sum of $5.4 million from 776 people who were “terminated” from the Programme for the Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), the Ministry of Labour and Social Security is yet to provide evidence that the amounts have been written back in order to reduce the risk of loss.

In an audit of the Government’s COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme in June, the ministry told the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD) that the ineligible individuals were “inadvertently included in the May 2020 payment owing to a glitch in the Beneficiary Management Information System (BMIS)”.

Five months later, the ministry is still struggling to clear up the issue with the AuGD.

In a fresh audit of the CARE programme, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, Pamela Monroe Ellis, the auditor general, stated that despite requests, the ministry has not furnished the information requested.

She said that subsequent checks with the ministry revealed that three of the “terminated” 776 individuals were also included in the June 2020 payroll.

The labour and social security ministry also seemingly fell down on the job when it failed to present the majority of beneficiaries’ files requested by the AuGD for audit review.

“We selected a sample of 409 beneficiaries’ files from four parishes, namely, Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon. However, only 167 beneficiaries’ files, or 41 per cent of the files requested, were submitted for review,” Monroe Ellis said.

The ministry indicated that the remaining 242 files representing payments totalling $1,592,000 could not be located at the time of audit.

Monroe Ellis said that her department was unable to determine whether all the beneficiaries from the sample satisfied the eligibility criteria under the programme.

The AuGD said it expected the ministry to maintain PATH beneficiaries’ files with the required documents to justify the authenticity of payments.

Further, the AuGD was unable to verify the authenticity of payments totalling $30,200 to six beneficiaries in May 2020 because certain critical information was missing from their family file. “The names of four of the payees were not included in the respective beneficiary files while the address of the other two payees was listed as unknown,” the report said.

Monroe Ellis said that her department could not verify whether these persons were legitimate beneficiaries.

The audit found that the ministry’s BMIS did not have adequate controls to identify duplicate records in the enrolment of persons under PATH.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com