Sun | Aug 9, 2020

NIS duplicate numbers cause alarm - Untidy affairs could lead to fraud, warns financial analyst

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 12:28 AMMark Titus - Staff Reporter
Colette Roberts Risden, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Colette Roberts Risden, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Several contributors to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) since the 1980s are demanding answers from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) after it was discovered that what should have been their unique personal numbers have been duplicated and reassigned.

The frightening situation has raised concerns over whether persons could lose some of their benefits, including retirement pensions, grants and other types of welfare assistance offered under the scheme.

“I worked with the JOS (Jamaica Omnibus Service) for 17 years and then a few more years at a private company, before I migrated to the UK,” 62-year-old returning resident Ophelia Grant told The Sunday Gleaner. “I am sure my deductions were done, but not only am I being told to get a contribution letter as proof, but that I have been sharing my number with someone else.”

Replacement Card

It was a similar experience for a former porter, who worked in the public health service for more than 30 years, who refused a replacement.

“I don’t take the replacement card because I am not giving up this number without proper explanation about all that money that was taken from my pay,” said the retiree, who gave his name only as Terrence P.

When first contacted, MLSS Permanent Secretary Colette Roberts Risden said she had not received any reports of one NIS number being assigned to more than one person, but said she knew of instances where one person had several NIS numbers.

“There are instances where one would apply for a number in one parish, and after a while relocate to Kingston and might apply for a new number without informing us of an old number,” she told The Sunday Gleaner, “but where someone else has your number, … I have never heard of that scenario.”

A visit to the NIS office in Montego Bay, St James, to obtain a replacement card revealed that this reporter’s NIS number was also compromised and reassigned to someone else.

“It is not unusual. It happens almost every day, … a lot comes from NHT (National Housing Trust),” an employee said of the cases. “All you will need to do is contact your former employers and get a contribution letter.”

She further added: “If you are doing business with NHT, you will need to have a letter addressed to them and one to us.”

She advised that I return with my birth certificate to get the replacement.

Roberts Risden insists that the NIS database is secure, pointing out that the current challenges could stem from the days when the scheme’s operations were out of sync.

“Having a centralised system with a decentralised service has created a fair bit of challenges, … but as time goes on, we are eliminating those issues more and more because we have been computerised since the early 1990s,” she said.

“It was also compounded by employers in the past that would submit their annual returns without the employees’ NIS numbers, but since we have had an amalgamation of the returns with TAJ (Tax Administration Jamaica), that no longer happens, but there were also employers that deducted monies from the workers but did not pay it over.”

SYSTEM AUDIT NEEDED

Financial analyst Ralston Hyman believes the MLSS should conduct an audit to verify each citizen’s unique number and take steps to make changes as recommended by Constance Dalmadge Hall of Eckler Jamaica, who did an actuarial review of the NIS.

“That (two persons sharing a number) is a very significant problem, so the NIS needs to do an audit of the system because that is a problem that opens and pave the way for fraud,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“The actuaries have done several reports on the way to enhance the NIS, and I believe they need to implement the recommendations of the actuary,” he said. “Those recommendations span from raising the insurable wage ceiling, increasing the amount that the people pay weekly ... , but the most important one is to increase the number of people in the scheme from just over 400,000 to include the almost 1.2 million in the workforce.”

In a parliamentary presentation last year, then Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson revealed that the procurement process had begun to undertake an updated actuarial review. She bemoaned the fact that less than 50 per cent of the workforce contributed to the NIS, even as the law demands that every Jamaican over the age of 18 must register with the scheme.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com