NEW YORK, USA — Jamaica’s Accountant General’s Department (AGD) has blamed the postal service for long delays being experienced by former public servants residing here who are complaining bitterly about late pension payments.
To receive their pension, the former government workers have to be sent a life certificate from the AGD, get it notarised and sent back to the AGD, proving that they are not deceased. But getting the life certificates has been proving to be a constant hassle, pensioners have told the Jamaica Observer.
Pensioners say they might be living in the United States but they rely on their pension to pay off mortgages, school fees, and to generally assist family members back in Jamaica.
“The major concern is the time it takes for pensioners to receive life certificates, have them notarised, and return to the department on time to ensure that payment of such pension is not suspended,” said Milton G Hanchard, a former headmaster of Belfield All-Age (now primary) School in St Mary.
One pensioner who knows of others in a similar predicament, said: “We never receive them automatically. In order to ensure that the certificates are returned on time, some pensioners say they have been forced to use courier service at a much higher cost than the regular postal service or through the Jamaican consulates in Miami and New York — both of which are unreliable.”
Acknowledging the overseas pensioners’ complaints, AGD spokesman Garfield Chambers said the department empathised with them, but blamed the tardiness of the postal system and challenges brought by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The situation is compounded by the ongoing pandemic and the usual challenges of the postal system. We are trying to improve our timeliness in sending out certificates as, regrettably, our overseas pensioners cannot rely on the postal service to have their hard copy certificate delivered on time,” said Chambers.
But the customer service officer underscored the importance of life certificates being received by his department before pension payments could be made, adding that the AGD makes allowance for at least six weeks between dispatching and date of return.
AGD pensioners are required to submit a life certificate for each quarter, while one is required every six months by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), which is administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The life certificates are to prevent fraud by living people receiving payment in the name of deceased individuals.
Chambers also implored pensioners to “utilise all our available touch points to make contact if you are not in receipt of your certificate for the quarter by the end of the preceding quarter”.
Complaints have also come about problems getting NIS applications processed, with some people saying they have been waiting up to three years, frequently without even an acknowledgement from the NIS office.
Among those complaining are Dwight P Bailey, Leroy Phillips, and Lancelot Moncrieffe, all former members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Phillips said he had applied for his pension two years ago, while Moncrieffe and Bailey submitted theirs three years ago. The three men said they have not heard back from the NIS office.
While certificates were usually mailed through the post offices, the delays are forcing the Government to resort to more modern means of communication — e-mail or via the consulates in major US cities.
AGD’s Chambers said the department had been trying to ensure that its electronic mass e-mail pushes were conducted on a timely manner each quarter to all e-mail addresses on file to get the certificates delivered on time.
New York Consul General Alsion Roach said the consulate had taken note of the complaints of the pensioners and, as a result of logistical challenges, some life certificates are being sent through the consulate.
“Where this is done, our office prepares and dispatches the [completed] certificates within the biweekly or triweekly system to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for onward transmission to the AGD. In an effort to expedite the process, once received, our office sends them electronically to the AGD,” she told the Observer.
However, Hanchard and two other pensioners, who spoke on condition that their names not be used, said the certificates are “not usually e-mailed on time, if at all”.
Relating his frustration with the system, Neville Wright, a retired corrections officer, said he had been constantly forced to communicate with the AGD each time his life certificate should be e-mailed to him.
He said that in one instance he sent the certificate by registered mail to ensure that it got to the AGD on time, but a month later he was told it was not received. After checks with the postal service, “it was revealed that the certificate had indeed been delivered to the AGD on time”.
Leaford Daley, who lives in Florida, said he keeps abreast of the situation in order to ensure that his certificate was e-mailed to him on time.