By PEANDRA PRATT
A SINGLE mother is facing eviction from her home because she claims she is caught up in the delay in payments from the National Insurance Board and owed over $1,000.
Patrice Knowles, 35, a resident of Pine Barren Road off Prince Charles Drive, told The Tribune that she is struggling to make ends meet because of various medical disabilities. Ms Knowles said she was injured at work in 2012 and has been depending on her cheques from NIB but, since March, they have stopped paying her.
The NIB has encountered problems while trying to implement its new $14 million V3 administration system and thousands of Bahamians have experienced delays in receiving their benefits.
Ms Knowles faces losing the home she rents. “They (NIB) have me on short term disability from 2014. I already got my cheque from March and it takes about four weeks to get another one but so far from March I haven’t received anything,” Ms Knowles told The Tribune. “I also have a sickness claim in from last year and I still haven’t gotten it yet.” She said that NIB officials last week told her the cheque was awaiting signature.
Ms Knowles says she is the sole provider in her household, caring for her son and her 90-year-old mother, who is in an old people’s home. The work-related injury four years ago left her with damage to the entire right side of her body, causing torn tissue scarring and back and nerve damage and she has been in and out of work since, making it difficult for her to pay her bills and her rent.
Tamara Smith, Ms Knowles’ landlady, claims that she has been working with her since renting to her three years ago, but cannot sustain her own lifestyle because of Ms Knowles’ delinquent payments. “I have been bearing with Ms Knowles for years, taking $50, $100 from her whenever she had it. I am fully aware of her medical conditions and I understand that it is tough for her to pay me when she has other bills,” Ms Smith said. “But I have a family as well, and I have a mortgage to pay too so I can’t help her any longer.”
Mrs Smith suggested Ms Knowles might be “piling on for sympathy”. “At the end of day, whether she’s being truthful or not, I don’t care,” Mrs Smith said. “I need my money and I need her to move out as soon as possible. I don’t want her living here any more.”
Ms Knowles has not yet been handed eviction papers by Mrs Smith but “is expecting to in the next couple of weeks”.
The government has been criticised for the month-long delays in NIB payments, with Dr Hubert Minnis, the leader of the Free National Movement, claiming its failure to implement a back-up system has resulted in Bahamians “being cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
In May NIB officials confirmed that delays in processing claims for both short-term and long-term benefits, as well as challenges in the transition process from the old IT platform to the new V3 systems continue to persist. Last month, then NIB director, Rowena Bethel, said the processing of short-term benefit payments is unlikely to be brought within norms until mid-July, while problems with long-term benefit payments are expected to be resolved by the end of August.
“NIB started using a new administrative system over a month ago without any back-up and it is failing to pay Bahamians who need it the most, their money they need,” Dr Minnis said. “These are our most vulnerable people that are not getting paid by the failure of the PLP government and its leadership.
“The government decided to implement a new $14m system at NIB that has constantly failed to pay the Bahamian people for over a month now. Not only was the same system purchased by Milwaukee County in the United States for $2m less, but it took Milwaukee County four years to implement it properly. So why then did they think it would be wise to implement the new system for NIB without having a back up?
“Staff at NIB are working seven days a week to try and get the Bahamian people paid but they can only do so much with a flawed system and no-back up system,” he added.
NIB has been engaged in the process of transitioning to a new IT platform for several years. Phase one of the transitional process involved the roll out of the new NIB smart card, which was launched in May 2014. The completion of phase two, the “most complex of the phases”, was scheduled for the first week in April this year.
In May, NIB officials said “transition issues” emanating from phase two had resulted in “regrettable inconvenience to a number of our valued customers.” At the time, NIB said the greatest impact was being felt by persons seeking disability benefit claims, along with customers seeking short-term benefit claims, such as maternity, sickness, injury and unemployment.
The issues encountered by NIB encompass both “technical matters and organisational culture adjustments”. At the time, NIB said some 30 per cent of its customer base was being negatively affected as a result.