Benefits payments to veteran sailors or their widows are facing new scrutiny as part of a shake-up of the system.
Government announced a series of changes to the eligibility criteria for ex-gratia seamen’s benefits, partly in response to concerns that payments may have been going to the wrong people.
Just over 900 people currently receive the $550 monthly payment, costing the government around $6 million annually.
Legislators have previously raised concerns that there was not enough money in the public coffers to fund a growing waiting list of long retired seamen.
Under the new rules, only seamen who made an international voyage prior to 1985 and have a sworn affidavit from either of the Seafarers Associations on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will be eligible to apply.
Minister for Community Affairs Osbourne Bodden said responsibility for the payments would be put under the Needs Assessment Unit, which he said had the manpower and expertise to monitor eligibility more effectively.
All current recipients will be “grandfathered” in, meaning the new criteria does not apply to them.
However, Mr. Bodden said anyone whose original application was found to be fraudulent would be dropped from the list.
“Those that the Seafarers Association has not signed off on will be particularly scrutinized to ensure they are legit and receiving the benefit as necessary,” said Mr. Bodden.
The changes also raise the income threshold for eligibility to $3,000 per month and remove the specific requirement to have spent at least three years at sea.
The payments to veteran sailors were introduced in 2000 in recognition of their contribution to developing the Cayman Islands.
Administration of the fund has been a concern from the outset, however. An audit review in 2013 revealed numerous discrepancies, including one seafarer whose account was credited with benefit payments totaling $11,500 over a 20-month period after he died.
During Wednesday’s debate in the Legislative Assembly, East End MLA Arden McLean again raised concerns that some legitimate applicants were unable to get the payments because too many were receiving benefits without having earned it.
Mr. Bodden acknowledged the system was still “not perfect.”
He said. “The ministry is confident that these changes will streamline the process while ensuring the intended outcome of the policy is preserved – to provide relief to seamen and ex-serviceman who on becoming seniors had no fixed income and no dependable means of livelihood.”