Sat | May 25, 2024

35,000 yet to collect COVID CARE cash

Published:Friday | October 9, 2020 | 12:14 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Juliet Holness
Juliet Holness

Months after the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service disbursed sums under its CARE programme for people hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, 35,000 Jamaicans are yet to collect the money from banks and remittance companies.

This has left ministry officials perplexed as to why tens of thousands of people have failed to access the payout.

Of the allocation made by the ministry under the CARE programme, 25,000 persons have not collected from the banks, while 10,000 applicants have yet to collect their money from remittance companies.

John Thompson, the manager of the CARE programme, was baffled as to why persons who reached out to the Government for much-needed support did not collect the money.

The finance ministry has since recovered the sums from the remittance companies and banks.

“We are still working to try to have every eligible beneficiary in receipt of their payment,” Thompson said.

Ministry officials appeared before Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) where the oversight body reviewed the Second Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure.

Asked why the applicants had not collected their money, Thompson said, “We don’t know.” However, the committee was later informed that the 25,000 bank accounts into which sums had been paid for beneficiaries were “invalid”.

Juliet Holness, member of the PAAC, said that she had been informed that many persons were unable to pick up their money at remittance companies as they are incapacitated.

“And the young member of the family, sometimes a teenager who completed the application for them … , is just not able to collect because ‘I can’t collect for my grandmother’.”

She suggested that a help desk be set up by the ministry so that persons could submit their particulars and indicate why they have not been able to collect the money.

However, Thompson said that the Government had given approval for third-party collection for persons who are 65 years and older.

He conceded that some remittance companies had been reluctant to make payments to third parties.

“Part of the uncollected 10,000 are persons who don’t have a formal identification,” he said.

Thompson told members of the PAAC that the CARE programme has shown up the infrastructure deficit in the country.

Remittance company talks

Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison said that the ministry was taking steps to work with one of the remittance companies that had been able to disburse all the money it received to beneficiaries of the CARE programme.

Morrison said the ministry was in discussion with the banks and the applicants to ascertain what the problems are in relation to making payments to CARE beneficiaries. “We have, in fact, been able to address a substantial amount,” the financial secretary said.

According to Thompson, the ministry has had multiple initiatives “trying to tackle this problem, but the truth is there is a large segment of the population that doesn’t even know the correct spelling of their first name”.

Meanwhile, Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Governor Richard Byles said that a single national identification could smooth the process of business transactions.

He also told the PAAC that the BOJ was working on a central bank digital currency that would allow “cash to move around just by phone to phone”.

The finance ministry is projecting to spend $15 billion on its CARE programme by the end of October. To date, approximately 600,000 persons have benefited from the exercise.