MSDFS to establish Internal Investigation and Compliance Unit to handle cases of fraud

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MSDFS to establish Internal Investigation and Compliance Unit to handle cases of fraud

An Investigation and Compliance Unit will be established soon to address cases of apparent fraud within the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.

This was revealed on Saturday by line Minister Donna Cox, during her contribution to the debate on the 2022 Budget.

Minister Cox said that almost 2,000 “dead” people were issued social support cheques by her Ministry, some as recently as August 2021, with a “large number of grant recipients” found to be living abroad and therefore ineligible for welfare support from the State.

She said some of the disability and pension cheques belonging to these 1,955 individuals are being cashed, the most signifi­cant, 81 per cent (of those cashed), being Senior Citi­zens’ Pension cheques.”

A further 3,902 grants were identified for investigation.

The minister admitted that they have seen a sharp increase in fraudulent activity, much of it relating to the fraudulent encashment of pension cheques.

Minister Cox said, “A large number of grant recipients are residing abroad and are ineligible for support from the State. However, many are attempting to defraud this good country through amendments that I heard were made under the UNC administration to receive social support when they do not qualify,” Cox said.

“These individuals live outside of the country and do not meet the resi­dential eligibi­lity, (but) are ma­king claims for social support. We are aware of this and a heightened sense of vigilance now abounds.”

Cox said, “While on one hand the Government is ta­king care of its senior citizens and adequately providing for them, there are others in society who see this as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of our older persons.

She said she wants every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago to know that every effort is being made to ensure that the nation’s resour­ces, intended to support the vulnerable, will reach them and that any and all nefarious activity will be halted, investiga­ted and where possible prosecuted.”

“As part of the thrust to reduce fraudulent con­version of pensioners’ cheques, the ministry will streamline its efforts to make direct payments into our clients’ bank ­accounts.”

This initiative aims to bring the remaining 63,000 individuals, or 61 per cent of the pensioners, into the direct deposit system.

Cox said in light of the increase in fraudulent activity, the need for an internal investigation and compliance unit was also clear.

She said the ministry had received approval to proceed with this unit and intends to implement it by the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

This would have sev­eral benefits, including redu­cing the bottlenecks and delays caused by protracted investigations which cause increased hardship for the ministry’s clients; acting as a deterrent to fraudsters; promote confidence in the system of payments for over 18 grants; crea­ting efficiency in public expenditure; and enha­ncing and expediting the problem-solving capabi­lity and capacity of the ministry.