NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Scores of unemployed persons seeking assistance from the National Insurance Board (NIB) have expressed anger and dissatisfaction with the digital payment platform Island Pay after being unable to access much needed unemployment benefit payments.
Dozens of irate individuals have inundated the company’s Facebook page to express their dissatisfaction after being unable to access their funds.
In a response to one user on its Facebook page the company said: “We are working diligently this week to install more kiosks in places that are open during lockdown. We will post updated locations as soon as we have them.”
Public Services and National Insurance Minister Brensil Rolle spoke to access challenges ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting, telling reporters the government was working to address the matter.
“Island Pay have kiosks in various government ministries and departments like the post office, and the post office is in a lockdown,” Rolle said.
“So you can’t go directly to some of these sites that they have identified we are working with that as I speak to you today, and hopefully we can resolve those issues today.
“The (Island Pay) kiosks that were set up so that individuals can easily go and access their funds from various agencies and departments and buildings, those buildings are shutdown and we did not anticipate a second shutdown was gonna come,” he said.
Notwithstanding challenges, Rolle stressed there are 38,000 individuals receiving unemployment assistance, and more than $100 million has been dispersed.
“That is something that as ordinary Bahamians we should be proud of it, we are better than every other Caribbean country so far, and we monitor other countries in the Caribbean to see exactly what they are doing.
“We even look better than the United States because they’re fighting over unemployment assistance as I speak,” Rolle added.
Island Pay, a Bahamas-based electronic money mobile payment service provider is assisting the National Insurance Board (NIB) in the launch of its new online portal Government-funded Unemployment Benefit Extension (GovUEBex) Program.
The company’s release in late July indicated that it is installing leading edge ATM kiosk on several islands to facilitate easy cash in/cash out access for the programme.
Yesterday, former truck driver Ronald Butler said he was among scores of inconvenienced and vulnerable Bahamians.
“I’m not the only person going through this,” he told Eyewitness News.
“There are many people with the same complaint. It’s terrible and really inconvenient. I don’t understand why NIB did this. They had my bank information and were sending funds to my account and now since this extension of unemployment payments kicked in, they are going through Island Pay. What’s up with that? It’s just not convenient.
“They only have three kiosks from what I understand and if you can’t get to one of those you are in trouble. You have to go online download an App. After the account finally got approved I saw where NIB had sent the funds.”
On its website, Island Pay identifies three kiosk locations: Colina – Village Road; Crew Pub – East Street North; Superwash – Carmichael Road West.
Butler continued: “The kiosks were closed during the lockdown. They had an option to transfer funds to your bank account. I did that but the bank told me they have no affiliation with them.
“Then, [Island Pay] don’t have a direct line to communicate with them – only WhatsApp. I told them I don’t appreciate the fact that they have all these banks listed but when you do the transfer you money, it isn’t showing up. They sent me a message saying they sorry they have many clients to deal with and a transfer takes one to three business days.
“I need my money,” he added.
Another individual seeking their unemployment benefit said: “All the kiosks are closed and no one is responding the contacts.
“The issue is trying to get money from the account. The funds are there but the release of the funds is not happening. All the kiosks are closed and people aren’t able to get their funds. We are calling and text messaging and no one is answering. What do we do at a time like this? Who is holding the funds and why are they not releasing the funds?”
The complaints were echoed on the company’s Facebook page.
There, one user wrote: “So if you have a bank account why does NIB send it to you guys, if it was said that persons who was already collecting their funds from their accounts from the first 13 weeks will continue getting their funds that way? So why is it that my funds transfer to you guys, and I message you guys to get an answer but no response.”
Another user wrote: “Drove to all three locations trying to withdraw funds. Two locations was closed and the other location the kiosk was out of order.”
When questioned about the matter by Eyewitness News, NIB director Dr Nicola Virgill-Rolle said: “For those individuals we do not have bank information for, we have utilized the services of a digital wallet provider to provide these services.
“There is an App included where persons can choose to do various things once they are on-boarded onto the system including depositing the funds to a bank account or they can redeem the funds at a kiosk provided by the company.”
She added: “We continue to work with multiple providers including the original provider for certain services. We have a number of things happening.
“We hope to extend it also to other providers as well as we move into digital payments for NIB services. We get reports through our IT department on the number of payments made. We know that people are receiving payments but we will continue to ensure that our customers are receiving the best experience possible.”
Concerns were also raised over withdrawals and other transactional fees.
According to press releases from the company, Frank Svatousek is the company’s president.
Attempts to obtain comment from Svatousek via listed email addresses proved unsuccessful up to the time this article.