Investigation… The racket called ghost workers in the public service | Ripples Nigeria
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Investigation… The racket called ghost workers in the public service

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In from Ali Smart….

The argument has always been that the civil service across all the tiers of government has an over bloated workforce, which often results in huge monthly wage bills among other costs, thus leaving little or nothing for capital projects.

It is also well known that the large workforce of governments is not all genuine staff, as a good portion of names on the payroll are fictitious names used to fleece funds in form of salaries.

But beyond the hues and cries, no one knows exactly how this whole scheme is perfected and eventually acted out by those involved.

However, in a chance encounter with Ripples, a staff in one of the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Aviation blew the whistle on what he described as racketeering in most of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

The source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said the incidence of ghost workers in the public sector is with the connivance of those in positions of authority within the ministry, specifically the accounting officers who prepare the payroll.

Speaking on the modus operandi, the source said, it’s like there is an unwritten code that once you get to a certain level in the ministry, say level 15-16, you’re entitled to some ghost workers.

“What this means is that you automatically start collecting money on behalf of these unknown people for a period of time.”

A lot of directors in the ministry, the source maintained, “have benefited from this illegality one way or the other. They consider this as a form of preparing for retirement.”

Shocking and revealing as this is, the source said no one has ever been caught because it is a well-guarded secret.

“From what I know, these people play on the psyche that the public service is the highest employer of labour and since most of them are career civil servants who understand the system very well, they easily get away with it.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Tunde Aremu, who heads the Campaign and Mobilisation team of ActionAid, in a monitored television magazine programme at the weekend, disclosed that during his stint in the public sector, he found out that fictitious names were usually added to the payroll with a view to defrauding the system.

Such acts of sabotage, he reckoned does not bode well for any economy desirous of growth.

A damning verdict

It would be recalled that the immediate past Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala had revealed that the federal government blocked a N208.7 billion ghost workers scam in government parastatals and agencies after a biometric collection exercise carried out to get a proper data of federal civil servants. The exercise revealed that 62,893 of the workers who were hitherto on the payroll of the federal government were ghost workers.

The minister said at the time the integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) was implemented, most of the civil servants did not show up, an indication that they were ghost workers and after their disengagement, the federal government has been able to save about N208.7 billion usually expended as salaries and benefits on these ghost workers.

So far, 215 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), with total staff strength of 153,019 have been reportedly captured on the IPPIS. Also, each staff’s biometric data is captured to enable the implementation officers of IPPIS determine the authenticity of each staff. The government has also shown commitment by reportedly setting up biometric identification registration at 300 payroll distribution centres throughout the country.

Thus, staff not bold enough to come forward for biometric verification would be considered to be part of those used by pay officers of the MDAs to defraud government.

These 46,821 ghost workers, amounted to one out of every three workers in the audited organizations. Perhaps upon further scrutiny, the figures could have been higher.

The IPPIS is one of the World Bank-engineered public sector reform programmes in Nigeria coordinated by the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR).

According to the BPSR, the IPPIS project, a World Bank–assisted programme of the FG’s Economic Reforms and Governance Project (ERGP), was instituted in 2007 to provide a reliable and comprehensive database for the public service, facilitate manpower planning, eliminate record and payroll frauds, facilitate easy storage, update and retrieve personnel records for administrative and pension processes and facilitate staff remuneration payment with minimal waste and leakages.

The federal government, according to reports, made a savings of N4.4 billion in the 2007/2008 fiscal year from the IPPIS project, for example. The said amount represents the difference between the budgeted personnel cost estimates of just seven ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and the actual personnel costs paid during the period under reference.

An insight into the horrendous nature of the fraud indicates that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) harbours about 10,000 ghost workers on its payroll, while the prostrate Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) fritters away N2 billion annually using ghost workers as cover.

The states are not exempted

The monumental ghost-worker sleaze bug is also eating the fabrics of the civil service of virtually all states in the country. It is documented that Ekiti State loses N63 million monthly to the fraud, while the figure for Zamfara State is N2 billion annually. In Kebbi State, the loss amounts to N153 million monthly; Bayelsa State N3.5 billion annually; and Kogi State N700 million per month.

A report last year said Lagos State, believed to be ahead of other states in tackling the fraud, recovered N250 million through its innovative Oracle payment system.

The adoption of information technology innovations like the IPPIS at the FG level, Oracle in Lagos State and the biometric system by some states, seems to have become inevitable with the oozing penchant of incorrigibly prodigal public pay officers, their cohorts and sponsors to loot government coffers dry.

Investigations have revealed that poor administration of pension funds may have resulted in the colossal loss of about 30 percent of the funds to ghost workers.

In many cases, names of dead persons are still left on payrolls and all manner of entitlements are claimed on their behalf. In some cases also, names of individuals who were never in the employ of government are used to claim money.

The last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan said it discovered that it was paying millions of dollars per year in payroll to “ghost workers” who were neither legitimate nor eligible employees.

Official rebuttal

When Ripples sought the reaction of Mr. Rasheed Haruna Imran, Director of Communication at the Office of Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF), on the alleged culpability of staff engaged in the ghost workers saga, he declined comments, saying he was not authorised to speak on such matters except the Permanent Secretary.

But an insider while acknowledging that there were provable scams, however said, things are getting a lot better.

“As much as I deign to admit that such things used to be possible in the civil service, I can assure you that a lot has been done to clear the mess because there is no system that can survive under that type of corrupt practice. If you operate that kind of administration the system will automatically collapse.

“Of course, in the civil service system, with the reforms in place, we have taken steps to weed off all ghost workers in the system.”

Continuing, the source revealed that: “Right now, the IPPIS has helped tremendously. We have just finished verification exercise for staff of the Federal Character Commission and the Northeast.”

The source in the Office of the Head of Service, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised, disclosed that “the verification exercise of all civil servants is ongoing and it is going to be a continuous process until such a time we’re able to get the right people in the right places”.

He further reiterated that: “The claim that if you get to a certain level in the civil service you’re entitled to some ghost workers is very weird.”

Shedding more light on the issue, Mr. Folu Olamiti, spokesman for the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) recalled that the former minister of Finance directed that the ICPC to go ahead and investigate those fingered in the ghost workers’ racket, assuring that investigation was ongoing. “I can assure you that investigation is still ongoing and we will make public our findings at the right time.”

Stephen Oronsaye’s report to the rescue

It would be recalled that following public outcry over the high cost of governance in the country, then President Goodluck Jonathan on August 18, 2011, inaugurated a committee to restructure and rationalise the federal government agencies, with former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye, as its chairman. The committee’s mandate included, among others, to: study and review all previous reports/records on the restructuring of federal parastatals and advise on whether they are still relevant or not; examine critically the mandates of the existing federal agencies, parastatals and commissions and determine areas of overlap or duplication of functions and make appropriate recommendations.

The committee also recommended the conduct of management audit for 89 agencies to capture the biometric features of staff as well as the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies/councils.

A breakdown of what would be saved from the exercise gave N124.8bn from agencies proposed for abolition; N100.6bn from agencies proposed for mergers; N6.6bn from professional bodies; N489.9bn from universities; N50.9bn from polytechnics; N32.3bn from colleges of education and N616m from boards of federal medical centres.

In summary, the committee recommended the scrapping of 102 statutory agencies from the current 263, abolition of 38 agencies, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to departments in the ministries. The 800-page report also recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils.

However, before it winded up, the administration of former President Jonathan showed no sign of commitment to cut down on the waste that the over 420 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) has become. Many Nigerians are however wishing, that the Muhammadu Buhari administration would do more in that regard, given its promise to cut down government expenses, and free more funds for infrastructural development, among others.

Ripples…without borders, without fears

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