Jobless Bahamians fume at third-party benefits provider


Tribune Business Reporter

Irate jobless Bahamians have blasted a third-party digital payments provider for its failure to provide them with much-needed benefits and income support amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Island Pay's Facebook page has been inundated with postings by angry Bahamians claiming they have yet to receive benefits from the government-financed extension to the 13-week unemployment benefit initiative in their bank accounts.

These payments were supposed to have been facilitated by Island Pay's digital wallet, in an effort to speed up the payment process and avoid the National Insurance Board (NIB) becoming overwhelmed by the volume of claimants as a result of COVID-19's economic fall-out.

However, the evidence suggests that the possibility of a second nationwide lockdown was not considered by Island Pay. Two of its three kiosks are located at entities which have been forced to close by the government, while the third is not working, meaning Bahamians cannot access their benefits there.

Island Pay promised on its Facebook page that it was trying to install more kiosks at "essential services" businesses this week, so NIB claimants can have ready access to their funds. However, it also appears that the provider had failed to establish the necessary relationships with Bahamian commercial banks so funds could be transferred to persons' accounts, as it admitted in one posting it was still working to tie down an arrangement with Scotiabank (Bahamas).

None of this sat well with jobless Bahamians eager to gain income support for themselves and their families. One person posted on Facebook: "I sent some of my funds to my acc (account) and en (I haven't) seen it yet....

"All y'all machines we have no access to...We are being charged for every transfer but yet still can't send all at once. ..This is awful service really...." Island Pay responded to this customer by saying: "Good day. We are working hard to add more kiosks that will stay open during the lockdown."

Island Pay also said on their Facebook page: "The lockdown required us to close our locations temporarily." Island Pay has kiosks at Colina, Village Road; Crew Pub, East Street North; and Superwash, Carmichael Road West.

Another customer, however, said: "I need to be able to send all of my money one time and not separately. Y'all done charging $2.24 for each transaction so that means I gotta break up the transfer to get all my money while y'all charging for each transaction. Island Pay responded: "We send funds to the banks every night. They might take one to three days to post it to your account, as long as you entered the account number information correctly."

Other Facebook users said their money transfers have been successful using lower amounts. Island Pay added: "Transfers to RBC are enabled. Please remember to use your branch code and account number so that there are not errors sending funds."

Another Facebook user said: "Okay everybody saying you'll have to transfer your money but they do not have Scotiabank. This is crazy." Island Pay responded: "We are adding Scotiabank very soon."

One Facebook user, who had a good experience with Island Pay, said: "Good day. For the past week I have been getting run around from NIB and Island Pay.....but to the Lord open the heart of a wonderful person from Island Pay. I didn't got her name but for two hours we were back and forth texting trying to find out why my account was not allowing me to transfer my money.

'"After trying for the tenth time she got me straight with transferring the money and I should get it by Friday....Thanks again. If we had more people at NIB and other businesses take the time out and just help the Bahamian people. So if you having problems just leave a message. They are really working hard to get us straight."

Frank Svatousek, Island Pay's general manager, could not be reached for comment despite many attempts. Mr Svatousek is described on the company's website as a business development and corporate strategist and a "thought leader" in financial technology (Fintech). It also says he is a co-founder of a company called Mint Technologies, a programme manager and marketer of pre-paid card solutions.

Dr Nicola Virgil-Rolle, executive director of NIB, also could not be reached for comment despite many attempts.