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Bahrain labour fund to curb funds abuse

MANAMA, March 29, 2015

Tamkeen, Bahrain’s labour fund, has vowed to continue prosecuting anyone caught abusing its private sector support schemes, six months after it resumed activities, a report said.

The government agency, which provides financial help and training to Bahraini companies and employees, put its programmes on hold for six months last year to undergo a restructuring - amid claims that some beneficiaries were misusing funds, reported the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

However, chairman and acting chief executive Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa told the GDN that such cases were not as widespread as people might think and new procedures made it even more difficult to cheat the system.

He revealed prosecutions had been brought against some who were suspected of abusing Tamkeen funding, but said the total amount involved was less than BD100,000 ($263,320).

"It is only a very small percentage of people who try to abuse the system, about which we are vigilant and we will ensure that they are prosecuted," said Shaikh Mohammed.

He added the misappropriation of funds by a minority of unscrupulous applicants should not prevent genuine cases receiving help.

"Tamkeen has always prosecuted those who tried to abuse the system," he said.

"People started talking about it last year because we started talking about it, as the fact we were not talking about it gave the impression that we were not addressing it, which was not the truth.

"We will not accept anybody trying to abuse the system, we will fight it and as a part of our efforts we changed our procedures in the system last year to make it more difficult.

"We stopped certain programmes that we felt were being abused and last year we sent people to the Public Prosecution, of which many were prosecuted, while others are in the court process.

"It's a continuous process and we want people to be assured that we will fight and loopholes will be closed, with anyone who tries to abuse the system being prosecuted to the fullest extent.

"We cannot let a very small percentage spoil it for over 98 per cent of law abiding beneficiaries."

Meanwhile, Shaikh Mohammed claimed that following the relaunch of Tamkeen's programmes last September it was now more difficult to exploit loopholes that may have existed previously.

"It's difficult to determine what is fraud as, in certain cases, they have a legal licence to run the business they have projected - but the look and feel of it may not be right," he said.

"For example, (previously) a person might apply for (help) running a marketing business and operate it from a car garage - legally it is a proper marketing company doing marketing, but there was a loophole.

"The cost of what he was doing didn't match the cost he was asking from Tamkeen. Thus it is difficult to put a number on such cases as it is a thin line.

"But whenever there's a doubt we check. That was the old system and after we re-launched, the numbers of such cases have dropped.

"Now only serious people apply as it is not simple like before and we ask for more documents to back up application. The loss (as a result of fraud) cannot be estimated, as it is very difficult.

"But those who have been prosecuted account for less than BD100,000 dinars out of over BD100 million we have spent in five years."

He added that none had been banned from reapplying for Tamkeen support in future.

"We haven't had any instances of banning, but we do have a disciplinary system that puts applicants under constant review," he said.

"We do disqualify them at the internal committee level if needed and the system stops them approaching us again."

Tamkeen has an annual budget of close to BD77 million, excluding operational expenses, and lists more than 100,000 beneficiaries since its inception in 2006 - more 70,000 individuals and 30,000 private companies.

"Tamkeen's budget has been growing and it has spent around BD60m on four of its flagship programmes per year and another BD17 million is being spent on unemployment insurance," said Shaikh Mohammed.

"Today not many people realise that every single company in Bahrain benefits from Tamkeen - they may not know that because we pay the one per cent unemployment insurance on behalf of the company, by law."

He added surveys showed more than 50 per cent of Bahrainis had either benefited from Tamkeen or knew someone who had.

Meanwhile, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) entrepreneurs committee chairman Mohammed Fakhro - who is one of two new members on the Tamkeen board - suggested board members should be more involved in monitoring funds distribution.

"The role of the board, as I understand, is limited in terms of its involvement in the operations and only oversees the functions of the committees," said Fakhro. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | BCCI | Labour Fund | Tamkeen |

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