The process of work injury compensation goes like this: When a course of treatment is completed, the injured worker is assessed by doctors for any residual permanent incapacity. If there is, an interim Notice of Assessment (NOA) is sent to the worker, the employer and the insurance company that issued the work injury compensation policy, stating the number of “points” awarded to him and the dollar amount of compensation.

All parties have fourteen days to lodge objections.  If no one does so, then the NOA becomes final and payment is executed.

In mid June 2014, Kamol Ahmed Md Tofazzal Hossain went to his lawyer’s office to collect his copy of the interim NOA. He was informed (correctly) by an employee of the lawyer that he could object, but he chose not to. The NOA was dated 13 June 2014, and the fourteen-day objection period expired on 27 June.

kamol_ahmed_MTH_assessment

Early July, Kamol went to the lawyer’s office again. He was told the compensation cheque had arrived, but he reminded the lawyer (through his assistants, perhaps) that his medical leave wages were still outstanding. The office then sent a reminder to the employer to pay up and to purchase an airticket for Kamol. Simultaneously, the office asked the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to extend Kamol’s Special Pass so that he had time in Singapore to settle these matters with his former employer.

The cheque was cleared two days later, and the lawyer took a cut of about $2,600. Of the $18,000 that Kamol received, he remitted about $14,000 to his family. They had been in dire financial straits since his accident. The balance — about $4,000 — he used to repay friends for all the loans he had taken from them to survive the eleven months since the accident.

Soon after, he learnt that MOM was calling him to attend a meeting on 10 July. But this was subsequently cancelled — by MOM, Kamol says — as was the rescheduled date of 19 July. The meeting was finally convened on 29 July, and it was there where, to his great surprise, he was told by MOM that in fact the company objected to the NOA and therefore the NOA was not finalised. “MOM say I must pay back all the money,” Kamol tells your writer.

No one had told Kamol before that anyone had lodged an objection, even though the terms of the NOA (as imaged above) says “The ministry will inform all parties if an objection is received.”

“MOM never tell me directly,” sats Kamol. “My lawyer say no one tell him before. He say he also don’t know.”

In any case, one must wonder, if the employer had lodged an objection, why was a cheque sent to Kamol? Kamol doesn’t seem to have received any explanation for this.

“How can I pay back?” The lawyer is surely not going to return his fee to Kamol. The money remitted home would probably have been used to repay the family’s debts too.

Exactly what happened remains a mystery. It appears that not only was Kamol unaware, neither was the insurance company, for why else would they have processed payment? One possibility is that the employer’s objection might have come in late, but if so, shouldn’t objections past the deadline be rejected? Or was there some inefficiency within MOM that caused confusion?

It might be argued that should a bank make a mistake and credited an account with a large sum of money, the account-holder is liable to pay it back. So even if MOM made a mistake it is not unreasonable to demand that Kamol pay all the money back. However, this is not a good analogy. In almost all cases, the bank account-holder would have reason to know that the sudden increase in the amount suggested an error, if he or she was not expecting any major transaction at the time. Spending the “windfall” hastily can be read as intention to cash in on the error.

In Kamol’s case, he had no reason to suspect an error. The sequence of events (interim NOA on 13 June, expiry of objection period on 27 June, then payment early July) looked perfectly ordinary and expected. Why should he be expected to bear the cost of somebody else’s  error?

At the time of interview (October 2014), it is unclear how this is to be resolved. Kamol has been given a re-assessment date in November. If the reassessment confirms the first assessment’s findings, then it should be fine; no change in the amount of compensation. If the reassessment comes back with a smaller compensation, MOM should just own up to it and lump it. It should reimburse the insurance company the difference and not make further demands on Kamol.