Social Development cuts $182 million from budget after fraud uncovered
Jensen La Vendee
The budget allocation of $5,413,633 for the Department of Social Development was accepted at the Standing Committee on Finance on Friday, with the department announcing a cut of $182 million for subsidies for the elderly, stemming from the findings of the auditor’s report general for 2021.
Defending the allowance during the committee, Minister Donna Cox said the cut was the direct result of findings of fraud within the department over grants for the elderly. In 2021, the position was allocated $4.3 billion, which was reduced to $4.1 billion.
The Auditor General found that there were 1,626 cases where people had received two pension and maintenance allowances, 305 cases where pension and disability allowances had been issued twice, and 450 cases where pension and public assistance had been issued twice.
There were 1,093 people who received public assistance and invalidity allowance twice and seven cases where the same person received old people’s allowance and retirement and public assistance and invalidity allowance. .
The report also revealed that people as young as 27 were receiving pension payments while some recipients used forged identity cards to obtain other grants.
In response to Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit, Cox said the reduction did not cover everyone who had been removed from the program. She added that currently 108,613 people receive scholarships for the elderly.
“It’s not just the findings of the Auditor General’s report, we looked at all of our grants, including the seniors grant and based on the review, we were able to remove some people,” Cox said.
She added that her department is working closely with the Registrar General’s department to remove people who are believed to have died from their list within a shorter timeframe.
Cox added that the $14.2 million increase in contract employment will be used to hire new workers to better combat fraud. Some of the new units will include the Investigations Unit, the Citizen Engagement Unit and the Reconciliation Unit. She added that the Head of Investigations and Compliance contributed significantly to the Auditor General’s report.
“At this stage, we have approximately 34 active police cases within the department which the police are investigating based on findings from the Investigation and Compliance Unit.”
Cox said there was a drive to digitize and consolidate offices, which explained the reduction in security costs and the increase in fees, stationery and other supplies. She said her ministry is currently 70% digitized.
Cox said as part of the department’s response to various disasters, both natural and man-made, a new $2.5 million allocation has been made for transitional housing.