The 2021 Auditor General’s Report has unearthed shocking inconsistencies showing several State grants, meant to assist the needy and vulnerable in society, going into the wrong hands.
The startling irregularities were uncovered in the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services in the 154-page report for the period October 2020 to September 2021.
Among the glaring irregularities discovered were people as young as 27 receiving pension payouts, beneficiaries of food cards obtaining double payments, pertinent information for the processing of grants being blank on the ministry’s database, a payout of $886,350 made to 61 beneficiaries whose national IDs did not correspond with their date of birth, people collecting more than one grant and four centenarians between the ages 114 to 135 appearing in the system who could possibly be dead.
The report focused primarily on four grants—food support programme (food cards), public assistance, disability assistance and senior citizens’ pension.
Looking into the expenditure of the food cards, which provide short-term food assistance to families each month, the report found inconsistencies with the national ID numbers of some recipients. The debit cards are valued at $510, $650 and $800.
«One instance was seen where a person’s national ID number comprised more than the standardised number of digits,» the report revealed.
There were also four instances where the national ID number indicated that persons over 100 years – 114, 123, 130 and 135 years respectively – applied for the grant. Given the ages of these centenarians, it gave the impression they were no longer alive.
It also found that one individual received two payments of $510 for August 2021.
The report also found that although one person had an incomplete national ID number recorded, «this person received double payments for 11 months from October 2020 to August 2021.»
The double payments were attributed to the recipient having both a $510 and $650 cards.
«Audit was unable to determine whether overpayments had occurred, since the information relating to the applicant’s eligibility for the grant amount was not available,» the report stated.
Addresses of applicants were also not included in the data and «audit was unable to determine whether more than one member of a household was in receipt of the grant.»
The report also delved into the public assistance grant, which provides monthly financial aid to individuals whose household income is inadequate. Grants of $1,300, $1,550, $1,750 and $1,900 are given out monthly.
While the report stated that 23,715 people were beneficiaries of the grant, amounting to $309,898,450,00, it found that «there were 673,504 instances of blank fields in the database.»
These fields represented pertinent information for the processing of the grant.
«These blank fields included national ID card numbers, date of birth, postcode ‘bank ID,’ on behalf of the cheque status information.»
A breakdown showed that 18,867 beneficiaries had blank fields in the ID column, 24,434 had fields with no date of birth, 168 had no payment cheque beneficiary category, 93,210 had no data for cheque status, 221,165 had no data for bank ID SSMS, 24 had no postcode, 94,471 had no batch ID and 221,165 had no data for OBO (on behalf of).
Even more shocking in the report was the discovery that «16 persons had national ID numbers that did not meet the criterion of a national ID card number stipulated by the Elections and Boundaries Commission» and «the national ID for 61 persons did not correspond with their date of birth. Payments to these individuals totalled $886,350.»
It also stated that the database did not provide data regarding the size of the family of each applicant.
«Audit was therefore unable to determine whether the correct amount was paid to each household.»
There were two instances, the report stated, in which two persons received two payments of the grant for the month of August 2021 totalling $2,600.
The report also examined expenses relating to the monthly $2,000 disability assistance grant which provides support to citizens permanently disabled and unable to work. I unearthed «1,238,235 instances of blank fields in the database,» pertaining to this grant.
Of this figure, 41,552 had no national ID, 48,012 had no record of date of birth, seven had no cheque number, 207 had no postcode, 275,700 had no payment cheque beneficiary category, 207 had no bank account number, 159,337 had no cheque status, 275,700 had no bank ID SSMS, 161,733 had no batch ID and 275,700 had no on OBO (behalf of).
«The national ID number and date of birth fields were blank in 3,782 instances. Payments amounted to $83,104,000,» the report found.
In two instances, the audit uncovered two people who had the same national ID number recorded.
Also, 42 payments were made for the periods October 2020 to June 2021 and October 2020 to September 2021, amounting to $84,000.
«Inconsistencies were found in 13 instances where the national ID number entered in the database did not meet the composition of the national ID number,» the report said.
In addition, the national ID number in 86 instances did not correspond with the date of birth data field and one person received payments for the months of October and November of 2020 from two separate local boards.
The report also looked into the senior citizen pension (SCP), which pays $3,500 monthly to nationals over the age of 65.
What the auditors unearthed was startling.
They found 52,876 instances where the date of birth field was blank, 106,794 instances where the entry in the field was stated as ‘NULL’, 404 instances where cheque number was «0» and bank account was also «0,» totalling $1,296,000.» Also, 18 instances were discovered where the name field was blank for records relating to one local board.
«Inconsistencies in the national ID numbers were found in 146,487 records. Twelve instances were found where two different SCP recipients had the same national ID number. 186 instances were found where the age of the SCP recipient ranged from 27 years to 64 years. 13 instances were found where the national ID number did not agree with the date of birth data of the applicant. A number of instances were found where persons received more than one grant,» the report said.
Family Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox told Guardian Media on Tuesday that she had not seen the report and would like to digest it before comment.
LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian