The details of four dead pensioners were used to perpetrate fraud amounting to almost $900,000 in the Pensions Department of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) which has seen some 18 employees being sent home, a senior source in the institution said yesterday.
Stabroek News has been reliably informed that the fraud started early last year and it involved the printing of pension voucher books for the four pensioners who had died in 2006. The source said the fraud was discovered in November last year and it involved claims being made for the four dead pensioners dating back to 2006.
Four employees were interdicted from duty last year and on Thursday 14 others were sent home, as investigations intensify into the fraud. No statement has since come from the NIS on the matter.
Crime Chief, Assistant Superintendent Seelall Persaud, said the police are still to determine whether there is evidence to charge any of the persons.
However, according to the source, the four persons who were sent home last year were the architects of the fraud and they were the ones who duped the institution. The source said there was enough evidence to charge at least one of the four whose brother was the one who brought the fraud to light by taking a pension book he found in their house to the NIS. Stabroek News understands that this employee, who was fired as a result, cannot be located.
Stabroek News was told that the four saw a way to “exploit the weaknesses” in the NIS system and they were able to print the pension books in the names of the dead persons even though the Records Department would have inputted information which indicated that the persons died. The source said this was because of a weakness in the computer system.
“If a cashier is about to cash a voucher of someone who died, when they enter the person’s name into their computer, information that the person died should be seen but that does not happen. All they would see is that a pension book in the name of the person was indeed printed,” the source said while adding that it was unfair to send the other persons home when they would have just been doing their jobs. The books were generated and the supervisors, who have also been interdicted, would not have known that the persons were dead when the books were taken to them for verification. The books would have been printed after the four managed to enter life certificates for the dead persons into the computer system.
Further, Stabroek News understands that it would be impossible for the supervisors to check to verify that the over 19,000 pension books that would be taken to them indeed belonged to persons who are alive. The source said that information should readily be available on the computer system. It was stated that management was alerted that persons were going to NIS officers with false identification and encashing vouchers but immediate action was not taken.
Reports are that the pension officer, who along with junior staff were the only ones remaining in the department, had some 30 years at the NIS and was never fingered in any wrongdoing. “These are hard working decent people and they are being caught up because four persons sought to exploit the weaknesses at NIS,” Stabroek News was told.
It was suggested that the management of NIS hire a consultant to examine its computer system to identify the weaknesses and ensure that these are corrected. If this is not done, the source said, fraud would continue to occur because persons would always be finding ways to beat the system.
And apart from the networking weakness of the computer system, the source said, only a certain number of persons can be logged onto the computer network at a time. Even though the NIS has more than one location in Georgetown and others in outlying areas, only 150 persons are allowed to be logged into the network at a time. The NIS has some 300 computers, so at any given time, only half of them are on the network.
“So if you come to work and log on to get your work done and you want to go to the washroom and as a result you log off that’s it for the day; you cannot be logged on back to the network for the rest of the day,” the source said. As a result, the source said some persons would take the chance to remain logged in while they take a bathroom break or visit the canteen. This can open the opportunities for others to use that person’s computer to create life certificates for dead persons or to commit some other fraud. “And that person would never know that it was his or her computer used and that is another weakness of the system and unless those are fixed fraud will continue.”
The source described the working conditions of staff members as “terrible” and noted that the lives of “innocent” persons, in reference to those who were sent home on Thursday, are being made difficult since they are now jobless and would find it difficult to find another job. It is highly unlikely that they would return to their jobs and even if the offer was made some may opt not to return.
“It is more like the new management wanting it to appear that they are taking action… what they are doing is wrong, there is no evidence implicating these persons. They were just doing their jobs. What can $800,000 do for [the number of persons interdicted],” the source said.
Late last year Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, who is the Chairman of the NIS board, had told reporters that the fraud involved just under a million dollars and that it dated back to 2006. He said that board had given management its approval to move ahead “quickly to bring this matter to a closure.”