Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us?!
As I blogged five months ago, when National is attacked with bad publicity, it’s Party strategists retaliate;
See previous blogpost: National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2
As I wrote in the above blogpost, when threatened with bad headlines or a scandal of some description, National’s automatic defense is to generally to default to one of three deflections;
- Blame previous the Labour government
- Release story on ‘welfare abuse’
- Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event
In February of this year, the Auditor-General released a report into Key’s dealings with Skycity. The resulting publicity became positively toxic for the Nats.
Toby Manhire, in a Listener article dated 19 February, listed ten quotes from the AG”s report, which were highly damning of National. It was by no means the “vindication” that Key claimed (knowing full well that 99% of the public would never read the AG’s report).
On cue, Associate Social Development Minister, Chester Borrows, issued media releases on National’s latest “crack down” on “welfare abuse”;
National is once again being hit by a slew of bad headlines;
And again, on cue, Chester Borrows has done his bit, by defaulting to Option #2,
Checkpoint: Listen to Chester Borrows on Checkpoint
However, Borrows is mis-leading the public in one respect. On 18 July, the Minister released a media statement where he said,
“Enhanced information sharing between Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has identified and stopped 3139 illegitimate benefits in just six months, says Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows…
… The enhanced information sharing started earlier this year, highlighting beneficiaries whose taxable income did not match what they had declared to MSD. MSD staff reviewed each case, and where the beneficiary was earning enough income that they were no longer eligible to receive a benefit, that benefit was stopped.”
This is simply untrue.
WINZ announced this in May last year – over a year ago,
But even earlier than last year, MSD/WINZ were leeping track of their “clients”. The following two letters are from an acquaintance, who luckily keeps every piece of correspondence from government departments.
The first is from 2009,
[Published with permission.]
The letter clearly states,
“We regularly compare our records with other government agencies…”
(Note; the over-lap that so concerned the MSD was a matter of two weeks, and centered more around confusion as to when the WINZ “client” was deemed to start work.)
The second letter is from 2001,
[Published with permission.]
Even in 2001 – twelve years ago – WINZ and the Immigration Dept were comparing information.
Accordingly, I have emailed Chester Borrows, seeking clarification of his claim that information sharing is a “recent development”. I have also sought details of the alleged 3,139 cases of benefit “fraud” that Borrows has asserted;
from: Frank M <firstname.lastname@example.org>
date: Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 1:50 PM
subject: OIA Request Please
Kia Ora Mr Borrows,
I am lodging an OIA request with your office.
According to recent media releases from your office, 3,139 cases of alleged benefit fraud has been identified, including 1,948 people who were wrongly getting the unemployment benefit and 559 illegitimately on the sickness benefit. These cases all supposedly invloved working whilst receiving a WINZ Benefit.
My questions are;
1. Over what period of time were these 3,139 cases detected?
2. When did IRD and WINZ begin sharing information?
3. Does WINZ and the Dept of Immigrqation also share information on WINZ beneficiaries who travel overseas whilst in receipt of a benefit?
4. When did that WINZ/Immigration Dept arrangement, in respect to Q3, begin?
5. What other government ministeries, departments, SOEs, and other bodies does WINZ share information with?
6. When did those arrangements, in respect in Q5, begin?
[and in a follow-up email shortly thereafter.]
7. Of the 3139 illegitimate benefits found, what was the time period involved with people receiving a benefit and earning income from another source?
How many were within the following periods;
- 1 week
- 2 weeks
- 3 weeks
- 4 weeks
- 2 months
- 3 months
- 6 months
– Over 6 months – under one year
- Over one year8. How many prosecutions have been undertaken of all nine cohorts listed above?9. How many have been convicted?
10. How many were in actual employment whilst receiving a welfare benefit, as opposed to some other source of income?
I look forward to your response within the legislated time period.
If the rest of Minister Borrows’ claims are as dubious as his assertion that information sharing between government department “started earlier this year” – then all claims and comments from National ministers demand checking and confirmation.
Otherwise, claims of mass benefit fraud appear to be little more than a propaganda exercise designed to deceive the public and deflect criticism from economic and social problems that National appears stymied to address.
At the very least, Borrows is taking credit for a policy – inter-departmental information sharing – that has been in place since 2001, at least. How many times can politicians take credit for policies they had little or no part in implementing?!
Wouldn’t that be fraudulent on the part of the Minister?
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 July 2013.
= fs =
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