The $200M pension book scam To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
January 22, 2002

I have been following with much interest, the situation with the distribution of Old Age Pension booklet in Guyana. I have also read with much interest, an article in the Guyana Chronicle (19-01-02) in which the Honourable Minister within the Ministry of Human Services posits that over $200m is believed swindled in what is referred to as a pension book scam. As the former Permanent Secretary (rsgd.) and Accounting Officer of that Ministry, I feel obligated to intervene so that the true picture is revealed. I know that many honest, professional employees of the Human Services Ministry are most concerned about the implications of these statements.

No one has ever disputed the fact that there were quirks in the system of paying old age pensions and public assistance. Some of us may recall that over the years, several methods of payment were experimented with resulting in the system that was last in place via the Guyana Post Office Corporation. With approximately forty thousand pensioners and fifteen thousand public assistance beneficiaries on record it is not strange that there is room for both mistakes and malpractice. This is especially true in a situation such as ours where there is practically no technology with electronic databases, where there are serious staffing difficulties and also where people are easily tempted malpractices because of the poor economic situation. This, however, does not in any way imply that the flaws in the system were unidentified or considered acceptable.

A number of initiatives were taken over a period to correct the shortcomings in the system but as any Government Administrator in Guyana will acknowledge, the difficulty is not knowing what to do; it's getting the resources to do what has to be done.

Also, even though I was most eager to clear up corrupt practices with one stroke, the reality is that it is a slow process and whatever was implemented had to take into consideration the well-being of our senior citizens and the needy. Obviously, the new system does not.

Please permit me to outline the realities of the situation;

a. As a result of careful expenditure, (since money was unavailable in the capital votes) we were able to acquire a computer for the Social Security Department. This was to be used to create an electronic database of old age pensioners and public assistant recipients.

b. A new system of distributing and accounting for pension booklets was implemented. The Accounts Department was mandated the responsibility of distributing and accounting for all OAP booklets. The Field Auditor was to do period audits. This was formerly the responsibility of the Social workers.

c. Another computer was acquired for the Accounts Department so that a separate database could be developed to enable cross-referencing with the Social Security database so that duplications or ghost entries could be identified.

d. A system of placing pensioners and PA recipients in categories
according to Geographic areas was implemented and the Guyana Post Office Corporation was written to and advised not to pay any recipient who did not go to his or her designated centre for payment. I should point out that there was a system in place to accommodate special circumstances.

e. Under the current system, there are no booklets for public
assistant payments. A system of issue sheets is in use. A new system was designed whereby booklets were to be introduced for 2002, thus minimizing the latitude for foul play. There were also increased security features to be added to the booklets.

f. Lost pension booklets were always an issue. Yet another
system was put in place whereby in order for a replacement to be issued, there must be a police report and only the Permanent Secretary could authorize such a replacement. This greatly reduced the number of lost booklets.

g. Several auditing companies were contacted and asked to provide
quotations for a comprehensive internal audit of the entire system.
Unfortunately, the ministry did not have enough funds and this was to be budgeted for in 2002.

h. To increase security, we were contemplating overseas printing of
the OAP and PA booklets. Our investigations revealed that there were persons who had connections with the local printers. This was a
grave concern. Printing of these booklets should not be done by friends and relatives as is reportedly happening at the moment.

As is evident Mr. Editor, numerous systems were put in place. The fact hat we did not trumpet our horns did not necessarily mean that we were in any way bankrupt for ideas.

It was precisely because of the checks and balances put in place that the corrupt practices surfaced.

I sincerely hope that the current difficulties in the system are ironed out quickly. Our Senior citizens and needy should not have to go through this kind of trauma. Despite our best intentions, changes in any system must always take into consideration how it will affect those that it is supposed to help, after all, aren't they our first responsibility?
Roopnarine Khadoo
New York
Permanent Secretary (rsgd)
Ministry of Human Services