Assessing the Provision of Welfare Assistance by the ASP
Assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of the provision of welfare assistance by the Agency for Social Protection
On Tuesday 9th December 2014, the Auditor General has laid before the National Assembly his performance audit report on the provision of welfare assistance by the Agency for Social Protection (ASP) for the period January 2009 to December 2013.
The Agency for Social Protection was formed in January 2012 following the merger of the Social Welfare Agency and the Social Security Fund and is mandated to “ensure the provision of comprehensive social security services and social relief against vulnerability within the constitutional and legislative framework of Seychelles”.
While the Agency offers statutory and non-statutory benefits to all Seychellois citizens upon meeting the relevant criteria under a particular benefit category, our audit was focused on the provision of non-statutory benefits, commonly referred to as welfare assistance. Non-statutory benefits comprise of medical benefit, supplementary income benefit and unemployment benefit.
The Benefit and Welfare Officers (BWO) who are based in the districts are responsible to handle applications for welfare assistance whilst the Senior Benefit and Welfare Officers (SWO) who are based at the Head Office process and approve the welfare applications.
Through the conduct of our audit, we could also appreciate the fact that, most benefit and welfare officers seemed well versed in what they do. Additionally, we identified initiatives whereby those welfare officers were relocated to other districts on a semi-annual basis with the aim of:
(i) Encouraging impartiality, thus putting off any unbiased judgment by BWOs
(ii) Obtaining a second opinion on particular applicant’s case; especially upon the review of application
However, we observed that there is no policy and procedure manual at the Agency which provides guidelines of the application process and the time frame within which an application should be processed.
The Agency has a Statistics and Research Development Section which is responsible for compiling and publishing statistics about welfare assistance provided through a monthly report. The applications are classified according to application type, basis for submitting application, gender of applicants amongst other information. Following review of some of the monthly reports, we found that there were errors in the statistics published. The errors identified indicate that statistics published were not properly recorded or analysed and/or reviewed to ensure their accuracy and completeness.
We also, reviewed a sample of 198 applications for welfare assistance and found that 40 per cent of these applications lacked adequate documents to support the claim made for welfare assistance, yet the applications were still approved. The most common documents missing were pay slips of the applicants applying under the supplementary income benefit category, whilst in cases where the applicant applied under the unemployment benefit category we found that there was no proof that the applicant had made any efforts in seeking for employment.
The ASP uses an automated Social Welfare Information System (SWIS) to process applications. We found that there were occasional failures in the system which resulted into delays in the processing of welfare applications.
The Agency also conducts home visits to assess the home situation and determine whether an applicant is in real need of assistance. We found that home visits were not conducted in a systematic way and in cases where home visits had been conducted observations made by the welfare officers were not always taken into consideration to complement results of eligibility reports.
Through interviews conducted with ASP staff, we were informed that the Agency should normally be taking not more than five working days to process a welfare application and for the applicant to be communicated with a feedback. Out of a sample of 218 welfare applications selected, we found that 79 per cent of the sample had not been processed within the targeted period of time.
Auditor General said:
“As financial struggle has been and still remains a challenge for many especially the most vulnerable in society, it is of critical importance that such a system exist to relieve the financial hardships of individuals to ensure that they are able to meet their basic expenses. The Agency for Social protection which provides for such, has been working in ensuring that this objective is met. However, the Agency can further improve their services by overcoming their main challenges which include weaknesses with the Social Welfare Information System, delays in processing welfare applications and dishonest applications”.
Notes to the Editor:
- Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the Auditor General’s website www.oag.sc
- The Auditor General, Mr. Marc Benstrong, heads the Office of the Auditor General employing some 36 staff. The Office performs the external audit function of public funds on behalf of the National Assembly. The Constitution and the Audit Act provide a broad framework for the role and responsibilities of the Auditor General. The Office is independent of the executive arm of the government. The independence of the Auditor General entrenched in the Constitution is a vital factor in the value and credibility that the public can place on the Office’s work.
- The purpose of the Office of the Auditor General is not just to identify and report upon shortcomings but also to assist and advise managers throughout the government on how to improve financial performance and ensure good governance. Both the financial and performance audits being undertaken by the Office are geared towards promoting value for money, transparency and accountability within the government.
Press Notice: 12/2014
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