Government assistance programs operate with little oversight and no criteria to decide who gets assistance such as free healthcare or supplemental income, according to a new report from the Office of the Auditor General.
The report also found that some people received government assistance “on the basis of political direction,” though instances of this have been decreasing.
Public assistance programs account for almost 10 percent of government’s core budget, which was more than $50 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the report. The Office of the Auditor General looked at 12 programs covering benefits for seamen, veterans and indigents, most going through the Needs Assessment Unit.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said the report found that individual assistance programs, providing money or benefits directly to Caymanians, “are operating without objectives and there is no measurement of their performance.”
He added, “Government has therefore failed to ensure that the programs are helping those in need and achieving results.”
Mr. Swarbrick said political influence over who receives public assistance had decreased in recent years. “We found that there have been instances in the past several years where policy and criteria-based decisions of staff regarding eligibility for permanent or temporary poor relief have been preempted or overturned … from political levels,” he noted.
The audit found that there were 37 instances of political influence in 2012. There were 14 in 2013, and the audit found two instances of political influence in decisions in 2014.
The Needs Assessment Unit did not respond to requests for comment by press time Tuesday, but in addressing the auditor’s recommendations in the report, the Ministry of Community Affairs, under which the ambit of the Needs Assessment Unit falls, agreed with the central recommendations that the various units responsible for public assistance need clear direction and criteria from government to operate effectively.
“Government has not taken the necessary steps over the years to ensure it is providing assistance in the right amount to the right people at the right time, and thus [is] ultimately failing the people they are supposed to serve,” Mr. Swarbrick said Tuesday.
He continued, “Individual assistance programs are not managed, and in current circumstances most of them cannot be managed, with due regard to value for money.”
The auditor general said that because the government does not have set criteria for who should get assistance, it’s impossible for his staff to figure out if government is spending too much on the programs or not enough. He noted in the report that there is no way to tell if all the people who need help from government were getting it. It is, he noted, a “significant possibility that those in real need are not getting the help they should be getting.”
Martin Ruben, who led the audit team, said the units responsible for doling out public assistance were isolated from one another with “no coordinated strategy” for making sure assistance got to the people who needed it in a timely way. He said budget figures for social welfare programs were based on historical budgets and not on defined needs from the various units responsible for the programs.
The auditors found that the department, in many cases, did not keep documentation on why it gives assistance to people through the various programs. Mr. Ruben said many files had very little information on why someone was receiving benefits, and some files did not exist.