EDITOR, The Tribune.
Please permit me to comment on what appears to be an aggressive and intentional initiative by the government to transition its various agencies to cashless operations. Part and parcel of this initiative is the requirement that persons who wish to use cash to receive government services are made to utilise selected participating private third party vendors.
While I fully support the government digitization initiatives and its aim to encourage the use of electronic and debit or credit card payment as the preferred means of paying for government services, I am, however, opposed to any policy that eliminates “cash payment” at government agencies, especially for a service that is exclusively offered by the government and one that the government is statutorily mandated to provide to the public. Government is fully aware that this policy to eliminate the use of cash at its agencies will further marginalise or disadvantage the less economically capable among us.
Digitisation does not have to be at the expense of marginalising this segment of our society. Pursuing full digitisation and the acceptance of cash can co-exist.
These individuals are equally entitled to have efficient access to government services regardless of their method of payment. After all it is the government that prints “cash”, for public use, but yet it does not want to embrace its use.
If the aim is to eliminate revenue leakage or reduce fraud, directing all cash paying customers to private third party vendors is not the cure for eliminating revenue leakage or reducing fraud. As a matter of fact, it could prove to be just the opposite.
History is replete with examples where revenue collected by third party entities for onward delivery to government never made it to the government account. As for fraud, digitisation is also not the cure all.
Revenue doesn’t leak or disappear simply because it comes in the form of cash. Revenue leaks or disappears because the proper internal controls are either not in place or are not enforced or wrongdoers are not punished. This is where public administrators ought to turn their attention.
A major area where revenue leaks and which I would like to see addressed, is the rental of buildings by the government at excessive rent rates and which are not put to their maximum use or allowed to sit unoccupied. I don’t see any effort being made to address revenue leakage in these cases. This and many other areas which results in revenue wastage could use some attention by public officials.
Public administrators must ensure that the policies and initiatives they devise and employ are reasonable and do not unduly burden or exclude any segment of the public.
Any policy, which results in the denial of service to a member of the public, for reason only that he or she is only able to pay in cash, is unreasonable and falls outside the intent and spirit of their statutory mandate.
Disqualifying cash paying patrons who are seeking government services is not reasonable nor proportionate to the issue which requires addressing.
As much as I detest government interference, at some point the government will have to address this matter through legislation, before it is widely adopted by private enterprises. The consequences will be far reaching and unpleasant for a large segment of our population.
Administrators ought to be about finding ways to expand the availability and access to government services through means that do not lead to the banishing individuals for the reason being only, that they are unable to pay by a particular method. There is no reason why cash cannot be an option among other forms of payment.
If the aim is to reduce revenue leakage or fraud, there are more commercially established and accountable measures available to public administrators to address revenue leakage and/or fraud.
There is absolutely no need to disturb or inconvenience the public to address a problem that can and ought to be addressed through internal vigilance, control and monitoring by management.
Individuals ought to have the option to determine the payment method that is most convenient for them and if cash is their only or preferred means, then cash ought to be accepted at the location where the service is to be dispensed. Personal cheques are the only reasonable exception if it could be demonstrated that an individual has been abusive in their use.
The use of third party vendors.
I am also alive to and concern by this strong push to channel business to a select group of private third party vendors by way of requiring members of the public to visit their establishment or utilise their platform to pay for government services.
Is it really necessary for government to utilise third party private vendors to accommodate cash paying customers when it has the resources and means to do so? As I have said, the problem is not taking cash payment, but more a function of delinquent supervision.
I am also concern about the lack of transparency in the selection of these private third party vendors.
Perhaps the relevant minister or public official may want to share with the public the following:-
How were these participating third party vendors selected and who are the beneficial owners? Are any of them employed in the civil service or are consultants to the government?
How much are these third party vendors being paid or what percentage of money (cash) collected on behalf of the government is retained by them as commission or otherwise?
When moneys are paid through their facility, how long are they allowed to retain it before remitting or depositing it to the government account?
If revenue is held for any period of time and accrues interest, who does the interest belong to? Are reconciliations being carried out and if so, how often and by whom?
Pursuing digitisation is unquestionably a noble objective, and one that I fully embrace, but it does not necessarily require the elimination of cash as a means of payment at government agencies.
Also, we (the public) ought not to allow ourselves to be intentionally distracted, by what is termed “reducing revenue leakage and fraud”, to the point that we allow sound procurement practices to be circumvented by those responsible for selecting these “participating third party vendors”, who will be facilitating those members of the public whom the government have determine that their “payment in cash” is not welcome.
In closing I leave with a quote by Franklyn Roosevelt which I beg the government to embrace:
“To test our progress it is not whether we add more to those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
CLAUDE B HANNA
March 28, 2021.