Data exposé uncovers tourism stipend fraud

| 25/04/2022 | 156 Comments
Cayman News Service
Deputy Premier Chris Saunders

(CNS): An embarrassing error for the Ministry of Labour last month, when around 3,000 names and email addresses of tourism stipend recipients were accidentally made public by staff at the ministry for border control, exposed a number of fraudulent claims, Labour Minister Chris Saunders has said. The data breach will lead to several people being prosecuted after “widespread and disturbing allegations of fraud” raised major concerns, he added.

“While I was very unhappy with the clerical error that led to the inadvertent data breach, since then we have had several reports of allegations of fraud made against recipients of the stipend, which is a matter of serious concern,” Saunders said and revealed that some fraudulent claimants had been exposed by their own family members.

“While I am sure that the vast number of recipients truly require assistance, unfortunately, there are members of our society that are hellbent on getting money for doing nothing. That mindset is un-Caymanian. The fact that some of the people who reported suspected fraud offences are family members confirms that we still live in a society where people value decency and honesty,” the minister said.

“Individuals that seek to defraud the government are essentially stealing public funds which could be put to better use assisting those who are truly vulnerable and in need of help,” Saunders added. He said that his ministerial team had worked hard to identify cases of suspected fraud, which have now been referred to the RCIPS Financial Crimes Investigation Unit with the intention of prosecution.

From the get-go, the payments had been based on an honour system and few checks were made. The criteria required that applicants provide sworn declarations regarding their employment and financial status.

A self-reporting survey was conducted by the Ministry of Labour in January of this year after it took over responsibility for the disbursement of the stipend payments from the tourism ministry. That survey relied on recipients’ honesty in listing their updated employment status, with a goal of removing those who had gained full-time employment since the gradual reopening of the tourism industry.

In that survey, over 600 people said they were back in full-time employment and were moved to a reduced payment schedule and transitioned off the the stipend. But the majority of recipients remained on the list at full payment. Saunders said that since then, some people had also come forward and returned payments they received in error or after they went back to work. 

“We are grateful to those who chose to be honest and who have been keen on doing their part to ensure that monies were prioritized for those still in need,” the minister added, but said that not everyone was so honest.

“We also discovered that there were four persons incarcerated at HMPS Northward that were being paid the stipend, at least one of whom was already in prison when the stipend was instituted,” he said. “One has since been released, but the others are currently in prison and were receiving monthly payments up to March 2022.”  

Saunders pointed out that the payments were an emergency measure introduced during the lockdown by the former administration. He said he supported the decision to provide much-needed assistance to thousands of families that were financially impacted by the global pandemic overnight.

“This was the right thing to do then, it is the right thing to do now, and we shouldn’t let those who seek to exploit the scheme for financial gain detract from the goodness of this programme, as a lot of our people still require assistance. Many of our people did the right thing by reporting cases of suspected fraud, and their courage and decency now requires us to act. We cannot afford to sweep this under the rug,” he said.

Funds for the tourism stipend programme have been approved until June but anyone who is still receiving the money who no longer meets the criteria for a legitimate claim is urged to voluntarily remove themselves from the recipient list. Another mandatory survey has now been launched for all recipients of the stipend, which they must complete in order to get paid next month.

For further information, or to report suspicions of fraudulent activities relating to the payment of the stipend, email stipend@gov.ky or call 649-6932.


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Category: Business, Crime, Tourism

Comments (156)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope they have caught up on those who are receiving the stipend that has rental properties and also working as well. Also why are they paying people who are not even Caymanian this stipend in the first place anyway?

  2. Anonymous says:

    To: 27/04/22 4:54pm: how on Gods great earth this has anything to do with the police ‘farce’? Think before you write emotional nonsense. The DP has said the discovery has been reported to the police to investigate. The police ‘farce’ had nothing to do with ‘who get stipends’ . It’s now left with them to investigate and make sense of what transpired.

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    • Anonymous says:

      No but they should investigate fraud and if they think a crime has been committed present their evidence to the dpp.

  3. Anonymous says:

    WOW. WTAF. Paying a monthly stipend for two years on the honor system. SMH. Only in Cayman.

    Someone should study this as a natural experiment in Universal Basic Income.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The stipend isn’t for doing nothing it’s for voting for the right person!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Unprincipled politicians arrange for their voters to get these gifts, nothing to do with proper process.

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  6. Anon says:

    This is so sad. How could something like this happen? Who was in charge of verifying the information? There needs to be an investigation on how something like this could happen. Someone needs to be held responsible. Chris Saunders, they can start with you especially since you moved the stipend program to your ministry.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Quote “While I am sure that the vast number of recipients truly require assistance, unfortunately, there are members of our society that are hellbent on getting money for doing nothing’

    I’m sure the stipend is given to them for doing nothing which is the absolute point of the stipend. Lol

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  8. B. Smith says:

    Big surprise! Coming from the dude who is in charge of the country’s dollars…dis a joke

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Lots of Fraud in Seamen benefits too, but they are voters, so nothing will be done about it.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Every ill wind blows some good!

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Geez maybe Saunders should beg them to give money back….like he begged industry to give Caymanians “equal opportunity”. PACT has actually shown themselves to be weaker than PPM.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Exactly. They only had to be working in the Tourism sector before 2020 and Caymanian. Civil Servants did as they were told and if they questioned anything, they were told that they had to give to them anyway.

    As for the PACT/PPM debate. PACT continued it so they are just as much to blame. If the data breach didn’t happen these people would have continued receiving the stipend.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The civil service had a duty to stop this kind of crap from happening. If they claim they were following political instructions they are probably unfit to be civil servants.

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