Arbitrary welfare creating inequity

| 07/07/2015 | 50 Comments
Cayman News Service

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick

(CNS): The management of government’s annual $50 million plus budget to help those in need is in a such a mess that, despite spending around 10% of its operating expenses on welfare support, from healthcare to food vouchers, the most vulnerable in Cayman society may still be in desperate plight. Another shocking report from the Office of the Auditor General highlights the mismanagement of public funds and the failure to give the taxpayer value for money, but this report also reveals how those in need are facing significant inequities because of serious shortcomings and lack of accountability.

While Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick found historical political interference in the direction of welfare provided, this appears to be in decline, with only two instances last year of politicians interfering in the decisions by needs assessment staff.

In one of two reports released on Tuesday outlining the ongoing trouble government has managing the public purse, Swarbrick and his team revealed the woeful inadequacies regarding how government gives money to the elderly and indigent and the failure to find out if the money is going to those in need, as well as whether it is actually making a difference to vulnerable families.

The arbitrary nature of the system is causing concern for the public finance watchdog, not just because of questions over value for money for the public purse but concern that those in genuine need may not be getting anything at all.

“No one in government knows the extent to which the money spent assists the people it should be helping,” Swarbrick said in press briefing announcing the publication of the report. The audit examined the various payments government makes to help people, including benefits to veterans and seamen, healthcare cover, poor relief payments, temporary help and other financial support.

But with no official criteria for giving money, no research to find out who is in need, no definitions of family, no measurement on the effectiveness of the various relief benefits and a catalogue of other problems, Swarbrick has made a significant number of recommendations. Urging government to tidy up the system, he implored officials to act quickly, given the size of welfare spending and the dangers that poor people in genuine need may not be receiving anything.

However, given the significant problems with the system and the resource shortages faced by the community affairs ministry and the Needs Assessment Unit, Swarbrick also feared that the government would not be able to implement the recommendations. With a shortage of resources and manpower this report could be ignored, just like previous audits and reports over the last ten years, including the National Assessment of Living Conditions.

Having looked at twelve different programmes that provide for temporary poor relief, permanent poor relief, medical care and seamen’s benefits, the auditors found they all operate without clear objectives and with no measurement of results.

“This has led to poor decision making and the significant possibility that those in real need are not getting the help they should be getting. In addition, many of the programs operate without proper legislative authority,” Swarbrick revealed.

The audit also found numerous deficiencies in how government determines eligibility criteria for social assistance programmes, leaving people unable to obtain the assistance they need. Where criteria are used, such as minimum income thresholds, there is little information available to determine if they are appropriate.

The inequities in how poor relief is allocated also raised concern for the auditor, which he said was down to a lack of official criteria on who gets what and why.

“The provision of social assistance through these programmes is not always based on authoritative eligibility criteria that are transparent and defensible,” Swarbrick said. “In some instances where criteria existed, they have been ignored or applied inconsistently. In this regard we found clear evidence of assistance being provided to individuals on the basis of political direction rather than the application of defensible criteria, although on a positive note this has now been significantly reduced.”

The audit found that staff decisions overturned by ministerial direction had fallen from 37 unlawful interventions by politicians in 2012 to only two 2014.

In the 2012-13 year, which was the focus of the audit, although the numbers suggested that some 7,900 individuals or family units were assisted, the auditor said that there was double counting as some families and individuals receive a number of different benefits.

Around 67% of the welfare budget — over $34million — is spent on healthcare insurance or medical costs for veterans, seamen and indigents. Over $6.6 million is spent on set benefits to veterans and seamen, while around $6.2 million is spent on permanent poor relief payments to individuals and families. A further $4 million is spent on a variety of benefits and payments to families in need of temporary assistance, from school lunches and food vouchers to rent payments and burial assistance.

OAG report – Government Programmes Supporting Those in Need, May 2015

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Comments (50)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Now just hold on a minute there Mr. Swarbrick. I’ve been listening to the Rooster talk show for years now and have heard first hand from Austin “Talks A Lot” Harris and now this new guy “Whoever He Is” how good and great Cayman and Caymanian is and now you tell me pretty much every government department is useless! Why this is just treasonous.

  2. Anonymous says:

    56 million given to 7900 poor people!
    That is one hell of a crisis loan!
    Who did they lend money to? Greece?

    Again, the sums don’t add up. Time to check accounts.

  3. Anonymous says:

    At least these reports show the money even if it has been pissed away. Remember the previous report recently that showed 1 billion dollars had gone missing, the location is still unknown.
    It was probably given to the seafaring veterans or someone dequally deserving, who in turn, bought their own island in the Caribbean and run it properly.

  4. Rp says:

    I am a Caymanian and seeing 7900 people out of 30000 receiving assistance makes me wonder how much theft is really perpetrated. We can’t possibly have 25% on welfare and 8 percent unemployed! We can’t possibly have 1 in 3 fellow Caymanians receiving support.

    What controls are in place to determine need? What strategy does gov have to reduce the numbers and turn these people into productive members of society? It appears the answers are “none”.

    How can a gov dept not be accountable for this? Is this gov dept adequately staffed with qualified and competent people? No, I would think. But if yes, given the results of these employees is NWDA expecting the private sector to hire such “qualified employees”? Would any business survive being staffed by such qualified employees?

    Gov, pls be a role model before you tell us who to hire in the private sector?

  5. Sharkey says:

    A 50 million welfare budget for a population the size of the Cayman Islands , sounds like all the people who needs help is getting very good help, or is it what I am reading is really true , that those that need help is not getting it, but those that don’t need help is getting it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps the Premiere will consider this report “treasonous”. Just how those responsible in government maintain any self respect in the face of such mismanagement is beyond me. They must have someone to blame for this disaster or perhaps they don’t care and simply ignore it.
    The same retread politicians continue to be elected and all have the gift of gab and never met a microphone they didn’t like. New politicians are needed as this bunch are a real disappointment.
    Tough to blame the driftwood for this.

  7. Anonymous says:

    There is nothing special about seamen. They don’t deserve expensive special treatment.q

  8. The Country With No Plan... says:

    The problem with the Social Welfare system, which falls under the Department of Community Affairs, is simple. Their budget basis is that they “cannot afford” to staff the Dept. with the required amount of Social Workers, so instead they use the same money to increase benefits to families who really need the help of Social Workers to assist them with their issues.

    The approach that should be proposed, and voted on, is to employ the required amount of Social Workers to provide interventions to children and their families to resolve their issues so that they do not become permanent welfare recipients. Using this approach, they can then set criteria, goals and outcomes for families because there are enough Social Workers to adequately work with families to do what they are trained to do. Instead we “save” on their salaries and “spend” on assistance which is not tied to goals or objectives.

    Having said that, those on assistance should be divided into respective categories: elderly who can’t work and have no pensions, persons who are healthy and employable should be linked to employment, an audit of Seamen & Veterans to weed out those men who have lied on their applications, but basically we need a strategy – what are we trying to accomplish? Employment? Poverty reduction? Providing temporary assistance while a program is in place to seek employment of those who are seeking assistance?

    What’s the overall objective? The idea of moving the District Offices back to George Town is an example of a decision that was not properly thought out and will cause more expenditure through a lack of family intervention and support – we will save on the District Offices and spend more on welfare and other assistance.

    • Anonymous says:

      The lack of planning is obvious and most apparent when you realize we continue to import and grant status to hundreds of persons who have no prospect of fully maintaining themselves – adding more to social services.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Kayman Cind

  10. Anonymous says:

    It scares me how some people talk about their fellow humans.

  11. Anonymous says:

    To those of you that truly care about this kind of savage thievery and who suffered through the permanent residence fiasco to become citizens I say ha ha ha ha ha. Where is your Dart God now?

  12. Fools, Frauds and Failures says:

    Wow!
    Every report that emerges shows that government is broken!
    It is obvious that the needed brain-power is not in place to fix the numerous problems.

  13. Audit me too says:

    Dear Mr. Swarbrick can you please publish an audited report on the Truman Bodden Law School. It’s way long over due and badly needed. Before September 2015 would serve well for all.

  14. Rp says:

    Does this 50m include unemployment numbers? I would assume not. How many expats receive assistance? I am assuming none? Pls correct me if I am wrong. Does the 7900 include the kids of those receiving assistance? I am thinking no since the article refers to family units. In any case, 7900 people receiving welfare plus another 1000 people receiving unemployment out of a population of 30,000 Caymanians? That’s 1 in 3 receiving support?

    Is that right?

    • Anonymous says:

      There are now thousands of expats receiving assistance, and that number is growing. (And no, I am not including those who have legally been granted status, although I do wonder why there are so many of them on the list as the immigration law seems to be designed to prevent that from happening).

      • Anonymous says:

        “thousands of expats on welfare” Either you know that is an outright lie or you are a very stupid person. Just ask the chief officer of the Ministry responsible, Dorine Whittaker, or Head of Social Services, Jen Dixon, (before she retires) -both born Caymanians by the way, – and they will tell you how utterly wrong you are so stop trolling and trying to cause mischief and dissention.

        • Anonymous says:

          FOI the immigration status of the recipients if you do not believe me. The answer you will get is that they do not know. How then do you so adamantly deny that large numbers of expatriates are amongst beneficiaries?

          • Anonymous says:

            In that case you cannot deny that 1,000’s of Martians are not amongst the benficiaries and may be a few snappers too.

            Commonsense says otherwise

      • Anonymous says:

        Show me where that queue is, I mean just giving $50m to Caymanians is pure discrimination against expats!

    • Anonymous says:

      the 30,000 includes ‘new Caymanians’, many of whom started with PR and were supposed to be able to meet their own expenses

  15. Anonymous says:

    ‘Treason’ politicos scream but it looks like David Legge might be correct after all

    • Anonymous says:

      What does this have to do with Legge? Take about irrelevant! Legge’s rag made some absurd contemptible statements — demagoguery, more accurately — beneath the dignity of the noble profession of journalist; other than than he is entirely irrelevant. So please stop trying to interject him into every discussion. His 15 minutes has long expired.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t know… a journalists writes about corruption… the Auditor General issues a report documenting mismanagement and corruption. I see the connection quite clearly. Strange that you cannot.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nobody ever doubted him, they just did not like what he said.

      • Anonymous says:

        It was more how he said it rather than what he said 7:32. There is a smug “I’m a goody-two shoes know it all” tone to his editorials which too often detracts from his “worthwhile reading and reflecting on” content.

      • Anonymous says:

        If Legge submits a new article and removes ‘all Caymanians’ and states majority of Caymanians, which includes thousands of new residents to the islands who have obtained status, THEN THE article would be spot on. SOme of us do stand up against corruption and those persons are treated worse than Legge has been since his article

  16. Miss Managers says:

    Another day. Another damning report.

    Can’t make this up in good old Absurdistan.

    The administrative and political “management” of this cash hemorrhaging micro territory is a joke.

    Will there ever be ANY accountability?

    Legge was right and we can’t handle the truth.

  17. R u chitting- Mee says:

    Wait a minute ….. 50.8 million dollars spent per year on seamen, veterans and 7,900 poor people!

    Exactly how many thousands of veterans and seamen are there exactly. Did we suddenly become the recruiting base for a massive Navy somewhere without realizing?

    To put things into perspective, the budget for United Kingdom veterans from a country of 70 million people, serving from World War Two theatres, Borno,Korean war, Malaya, Vietnam, Aden, Cyprus, Oman, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan is only 25 million in comparison!

    • Anonymous says:

      Here is a little more information

      Total number of veterans in the UK in 2000 = 13 million people.

      Total expenditure = 25 million GBP.

      Total number of veterans and poor people in Cayman = 7900

      Total expenditure = 56 million dollars.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Why are the politicians not being prosecuted, or at the very least prosecuted for their unlawful interventions. Is that not corruption?

    • NoMo ADHD says:

      No Suh, it is not corruption!!! Good question nonetheless. When an ordinary citizen intervenes and/or interferes in such matters as described above, that is the very definition of corruption. When that happens, the POPO and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution use the Law to smack you down, dress you in orange and put you behind bars. When a politician or a person with connections intervenes and/or interferes, that is an entirely different matter. The POPO and the Office of the DPP have no time for such insignificant matters and explain it away as people helping other people. Now it all sounds sorta confusing and all, but all you need to remember is the following: the law applies to all ordinary citizens but does not apply to the politicos and/or people with significant connections. Up until recently, Mr. Webb for example was an untouchable – that is until the US went after him. All of a sudden, Mr. Webb became very much touchable and is now accused of shenanigans involving his good buddy Watson. Now I ain’t no Sherlock, but the very same facts that a few months ago were not good enough to warrant prosecution all of a sudden are now being used to prosecute – strange how all of this works. I hope that I have been able to guide you through the practices and policies of Absurdistan, where black ain’t black, and white ain’t white – unless of course, it’s expedient.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Welfare in the U.S. is poorly managed and is severly abused. There are families on it for decades. You see the families using food stamps to buy lobsters and steaks. The children receive free lunch and the parents receive heating allowance. The children have the newest cell phones and the parents are driving Mercedes, Escalades, Jaguars, BMW’s. The entire family receives free medical and dental care.
    The working class drives around in a 10 year old car, pays their own medical (which is extremely expensive), pays for their own heating and electric bills and their own food (and it is not lobster or steak).
    If GC is going to have a welfare system, imo, make the people have to work to get credits for their $$ (even if it is some type of community service) unless they are elderly. No exceptions.

    • Anonymous says:

      A total should be given for assistance to young parents. Why should that be a burden on government? Let the mothers and fathers(young people) be responsible for their off springs, that would be an considerable reduction in costs. Too many of our people relaxing, waiting for pay day, just like they had worked or toiled so hard for it. Let them earn their keep.

      • Anonymous says:

        But that would require enforcing the Maintenance Law. We do not enforce laws around here.

      • Anonymous says:

        every new baby is a new check everyone knows this
        how many mommas have 4-5 kids with 4-7 daddies
        many locals drink pepsi because they think it is birth control perhaps you should give out birth control in the schools (not pepsi)and perhaps after the first child they should offer that shot for birth control that lasts 6 months and then keep getting it to keep getting the check
        I find it sad that they don’t know the pill goes in their mouth

    • coprophagiac says:

      Somebody is watching a little too much Faux News and listening to Rush too often. There is not even one little shred of evidence to support what you claim.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Mr Swarbrick for finally separating out the costs-incredible costs – of health care for seamen, veterans and indigents. Normally we civil servants and pensioners are lumped in there with prisoners and the rest of them.

    • Anonymous says:

      All those people who are on welfare should also get liens put on their properties. I have heard of some people who won’t take care of their parents but expect to inherit their properties. No way!

      • Island girl says:

        A huge portion of social services spending is for health issues, e.g. Sending patients who do not have health insurance or having inadequate coverage.,overseas as well as them being admitting in hospitals locally. A person could have had good coverage for most of their lives but whenever retirement time comes around that individual can no longer keep the huge premiums up so has no choice but to down grade or drop the coverage altogether. The insurance companies are anxious to sign you up when the big bucks are rolling in but the minute you retire they want to drop you like a hot potato or you have no choice but to drop out? I think the time has come to make Cinaco a real national insurance and require every person who is working in this jurisdiction to pay into the plan whether they have other coverage or not. If they want to take out private coverage is their prorogative but the must have national insurance as long as they live and work on this Rock. By so doing Cinaco would be able to offer more coverage and social services would not have to continually find money for these health episodes. As it is now the majority of members in Cinaco are the less fortunate in the society and government has no choice but to subsidise them or watch them lie there and die. Do not ever think that these people are all Caymanians either. Anyone who falls ills here and cannot afford to pay medical or do not have private insurance also goes to social services for assistance. I understood When Cinaco was set up it was envisage that it would become a national insurance but so far it has been left to languish. It is now time take the next step. I know many of you will write back complaining and cussing about my suggestion so if you have a better one besides going to social services I would like to hear it.

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