Ministry says it’s not aware of fraudulent use of PATH cash cards

THE local government ministry says it is not aware of any fraudulent activity regarding use of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) cash cards of deceased beneficiaries, and that unused funds for the 81 such persons recorded in 2019/20, have been returned by the banks which issued the cards, and the monies turned over to the Consolidated Fund.

Investigations are ongoing into lack of use of cards for a third (646 beneficiaries) out of 1,823 which were noted in the Auditor General’s report on the financial transactions of Government for the 2019-2020 financial year.Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said $77 million disbursed under the prepaid cash arrangement remained unclaimed since 2017 for more than 1, 800 people at a financial institution for multiple payment cycles. The report, tabled in Parliament in January this year, is being reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).The auditor general also said that although PATH suspended cheque payments after two consecutive periods of non-collection by beneficiaries, this arrangement was not implemented for the prepaid cash card facility with financial institutions.The local government ministry advised the PAC yesterday that 65 per cent of the 1,823 have already been investigated. At yesterday’s meeting Permanent Secretary Colete Roberts Risden noted that while investigations are ongoing into lost or missing cards, beneficiary payments are still made by cheque, or other means.In its submission to the committee, the ministry confirmed that according to the programme rules, where two consecutive periods for collection of PATH payments are missed, the payments are suspended, pending an investigation. “Therefore, where there were consecutive non-collection, payments were suspended and the undisbursed monies were returned to the Consolidated Fund,” the ministry advised. Seventy-nine of the 81 cards that weren’t used, due to death, belonged to beneficiaries from the parish of Clarendon alone, a detail which some committee members questioned.

Meanwhile, 141 cards were recalled by the bank for the period due to production errors; 142 were reported damaged; 360 expired; 154 lost or stolen; 297 were taken by ATM machines, and two beneficiaries migrated. Roberts Risden said in cases of death of a beneficiary, verification is usually carried out by social workers, but noted that the ministry has had a problem retaining social workers. She said there is a “revolving door” of recruitment. “Especially some of the better ones, after two or three years when they graduate from university they get their experience and they move on to other areas where the compensation is certainly better and the demand on their work is less,” she explained. However, she said the ministry is hopeful that following the ongoing compensation review for the public sector, it may be able to attract a greater pool of social workers.Social workers conducted less home visits in 2020, compared to 2019, primarily due to COVID-19, the ministry said, resulting in 10 per cent less families added to PATH for the period.

The PAC, in examining the submission, has asked that the data be verified by the ministry’s internal audit team, and for further details be provided at its next meeting.

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