The forensic audit into the Old Age Pension (OAP) has revealed that the Ministry of Social Protection (formerly Human Services and Social Security) has no proper accountability for the distribution process of pension books.
This was the finding of auditor Leslie Veerasammy of Nizam Ali and Company. The audit covered the period January 1, 2015 to May 31, 2015.
During the probe, Veeersammy said it was found that “There was no proper accountability for the 50,500 OAP books printed for 2015 as a reconciliation is not maintained between books printed versus books used.”
It was noted that the total amount of eligible pensioners as recorded in the pension database was 45,262 at the beginning of 2015 during January 1, 2015 to May 31, 2015 and there were a 2301 additions and 587 removals. Therefore, the total amount of eligible pensioners as per the database at May 31, 2015 was 46,976.
Additionally, it was stated that of the 50,500 OAP books printed for last year, only 500 were recorded on stock as undistributed. According to the auditor, the ministry could not provide a reconciliation of the actual books printed against those distributed for the years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015; nevertheless, the auditors carried out an independent reconciliation for 2015 based on available data and found overall that there is a variance in the numbers of books based on data when compared to figures based on the average number of pensioners.
He disclosed that at the beginning of the audit, they were provided with two incorrect lists showing total eligible pensioners of 64,001 and 51,915 respectively; however, a revised list was provided to six weeks later with 46,976 pensioners.
“We noted that the department is not capable of retrieving an accurate list of eligible pensioners on a real-time basis. Further, it was noted that the OAP database as at May 31, 2015 contained 46,976 pensioners, however, the average number of pensioners that have encashed their coupons amounts to approximately 42,744. Pursuant to the above, there is an urgent need to have the information on the database sanitised to accurately reflect the list of eligible pensioners,” the report detailed.
Veerasammy further noted that the distribution of OAP books initially to the social workers is based on the distribution lists for the various districts and the distribution list is obtained from the pension database. To the extent that books are issued to social workers and not actually distributed to pensioners, these (unissued) books should be returned to the stores, he stated.
Furthermore, the auditor pointed out that based on the number of vouchers encashed, it is likely that all pension books given to social workers for distribution were not actually distributed and there is no evidence that the unused books were returned.
“In the absence of a system to ensure that all OAP books are properly accounted for, we are unable to assess the extent to which OAP books printed were legitimately distributed and whether unused books were returned to the stores,” he stated.
In this regard, the auditor recommended that the ministry provide a detailed reconciliation of all OAP books for 2015 and the following details should be included: the number of books printed, number of books issued to social workers, number of books returned by social workers, damaged books, and number of books on hand.
The auditor also made a recommendation for a monthly reconciliation to be done. “As part of this reconciliation process, there should be monthly counts of the quantity of OAP books on hand done by the Internal Audit Department”.
Moreover, during the investigation, it was found that some 27 instances were found where persons collecting the pension books were not the eligible pensioners. The auditor stated that attempts were made to confirm the existence of these persons by contacting them but were unsuccessful.
“No evidence exists to support the existence of these persons…The Ministry should desist from issuing OAP books to persons other than eligible pensioners,” the auditor recommended, while adding that the ministry should also provide evidence that these persons are legitimate pensioners.
Furthermore, the probe highlighted instances where pension books are distributed in hinterland areas through the Tashaos or Village Councillors, hence there is no need for pensioners to sign the prescribed distribution sheet when uplifting their books. This, Veerasammy explained, opens room for misconduct.
The auditor noted that the ministry has indicated that due to the remoteness of the hinterland regions, accessibility to those beneficiaries is difficult and very costly. To facilitate the process of timely distribution, Village Councillors and Toshaos are solicited.
“These persons, by virtue of their office and status, are legally and culturally responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of the people they serve. By this token therefore they are entrusted with the delivery of the pension booklets to intended beneficiaries. This system has proven to be very cost effective and efficient,” the ministry had justified.
Nevertheless, Veerasammy made a recommendation for the ministry to develop a policy whereby a social worker accompanies the Toshaos for distribution of OAPs to pensioners in these communities.