14 NIS staffers sent home over pension fraud

Money collected  for the dead
Fourteen employees of the pension department of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Brickdam office were yesterday sent home as investigations intensify into the discovery of a fraud in that department.

Stabroek News understands that the fourteen were sent packing yesterday morning leaving the department with a virtual skeletal staff which includes the pension officer, the head of the department, and several other junior employees. The interdiction of the 14 comes on the heels of the firing of five employees last year. This newspaper was told that the pension officer may also be let go of very soon.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, at a press conference after the November discovery had said that the fraud involved just under one million dollar and that the board was advised that there were “corrupt practices by some members of staff in the pension branch by the falsification of records,” which allowed them to receive monies of pensioners who had died. He had said the investigation targeted specific members of staff after conclusive evidence of involvement was discovered.
Dr Luncheon had said that the police were called in and that they were also investigating the fraud which dates back to 2006.  He said that the management was given the approval of the board to move ahead “quickly to bring this matter to a closure.” Stabroek News was told that while the police were called in no charges have been instituted as yet as the lawmen are continuing their investigations.

Attempts by this newspaper to secure a comment from the Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Dianne Baxter-Lewis, on the issue proved futile as she said she could not comment without the permission of the Managing Director. A promise to return the call never materialised.

However, Stabroek News understands that there was no evidence implicating any of the dismissed employees. One source told this newspaper that the persons who were sent home, including the cashiers, were involved in transactions somewhere or the other and may have unknowingly been involved in the fraud.  “They may not have been directly involved but were part of the chain during their normal course of duty,” the source said. All the cashiers would have signed vouchers and others who distributed these vouchers during that period have not been caught up in the web.

According to the source the forging of vouchers was done in such an “authentic manner” that it would have been difficult for those cashing the vouchers or even signing them to detect that they were forged.

“They are just running crazy sending people home. It is like a scare tactic as no real analysis is being done of the situation. It is a mad scramble perhaps to send a message or to please the politicians and to show that they are taking action,” the source said.

The source said that many persons at the Brickdam location are now scared as they empathise with their colleagues who have now lost their jobs at the beginning of the year with no evidence implicating them in any wrongdoing.

The source said that the department is now a shell of what it is supposed to be as those there are junior clerks who were hired after the five were sent home last year. And according to a source it is difficult to determine how much money is involved in the fraud, which became known following a tip from a member of the public, as the authorities would have to identify and contact all the pensioners who on paper received monies during that period to ascertain whether they were alive and whether they indeed cashed their vouchers. The source said it was not vouchers in the names of dead pensioners alone that were involved but also vouchers of pensioners who never visited the office to cash their vouchers.

Several years ago there was a larger fraud involving pension payments between the Ministry of Human Services and the Guyana Post Office Corporation.

The fraud ran into millions and employees of both agencies were incriminated but no charges were brought.

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