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Cox: Social Development Ministry continues to go after fraudsters

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Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox.

SOCIAL Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox says her ministry continues to collaborate with the police to crack down on instances where people have been illegally accessing or attempting to access various grants offered by her ministry to help poor and vulnerable people.

During the budget debate in the House of Representatives on Saturday, Cox said, “Only recently we found cases where several adults were living in one household and were in receipt of public-assistance grants, despite owning a business, and despite the fact that they had meaningful employment.”

There were also cases where people who were receiving disability grants from the ministry were fully employed.

Cox said in some cases these people were working for state agencies.

“One such case shows that the officer has been employed for over 25 years in the public service and paid national insurance. This client was declared permanently disabled and unable to earn a livelihood by a doctor.”

As a result of these and other discoveries of potential fraudulent activity, Cox said the ministry has made arrangemens “to interrogate the payroll data to identify clients abusing the system.”

She reiterated that the ministry’s newly-formed compliance unit is working actively to implement a strategy that will see “the withdrawal of grants from persons who are ineligible or deceased.”

The former include people living outside of TT and who enjoy social-protection benefits in the countries where they now live, and people who apply for grants on the grounds of being affected by floods, when this is not the case.

“On the heels of the Auditor General’s report where it was reported that 61 individuals below the age of 65 years were receiving senior citizens’ pension, the investigation and compliance unit, through its investigations, was able to close 47 of those cases.”

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She added that 14 of those cases are outstanding and are expected to be closed by December.

“Of the 14, it is expected that eight will be sent to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for further investigation.”

Cox said this was only the tip of the iceberg, as more than 34 other cases are already being processed by the police.

“Financial resources meant for the poor and vulnerable must be received by them and not syphoned away by dishonest persons for their own use.”

Cox said many of these cases are not new and involve complicity with both members of the public and some public officers.