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THE latest revelation by the Federal Government that a total of 50,000 non-existent workers have been removed from its payroll is good news. The “ghost workers”, as they are widely called, were discovered during a recent audit of the government payroll. It is, indeed, disturbing that the ghost worker syndrome that has bedeviled the public payroll for years, is still flourishing at all tiers of government in the country.
Detailing the problem of the ghost workers who have been collecting salaries on the payroll of the various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for years, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, told State House correspondents that eleven members of the syndicate perpetrating the crime have been arrested and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
The breakthrough in the discovery of the ghost workers is the outcome of an audit carried out by the Efficiency Unit of the Federal Ministry of Finance between February and November 2016. According to the presidency, following the discovery and removal of their names from government payroll, about N13 billion has been saved monthly since February. This is in addition to another N1.1bn saved in monthly pension bills, all in the fight against graft in the public service.
The presidency has explained that when the audit committee was constituted in February 2016, the monthly wage bill of federal civil servants was N151bn, excluding pensions. However, the monthly salary bill is now N138bn, while the pension bill now stands at N14.4bn, down from N15.5bn before the audit committee swung into operation.
In spite of these gains, government should see the recent discoveries of ghost workers as work-in-progress. The effort to permanently tame the scourge should continue. We say this because, over the years and from all indications, the problem of ghost workers at the federal, state and even local government levels, has had all the trappings of organised crime, most likely with insiders in government agencies as arrowheads.
While we commend government’s efforts, it is refreshing to recall that the process was set in motion years back when the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, commenced the battle against the nonexistent workers.
The campaign against the menace, she had then advised, must be sustained until all fake names are deleted from all payrolls of MDAs. That should be the way forward against ghost workers at all tiers of government. For instance, an audit carried out in all MDAs in 2013 revealed that the Budget Office of the federation topped the list of government agencies harbouring ghost workers, with 77.33 percent of the total staff on its payroll non-existent. The Budget Office was followed by the National Planning Commission (NPC) with 74.90 percent of nonexistent staff on its payroll. It was closely trailed by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
From these figures, it is clear that key government agencies are leading in the problem of ghost workers. What this suggests is that the number of genuine workers in almost all government agencies may not be higher than 50 percent of the names on the payroll. This, perhaps, explains why Federal Government expenditure pattern has continued to rise astronomically over that of capital expenditure.
This ugly scenario could continue with the 2017 Budget, which has a significant amount of the recurrent expenditure voted for salaries and overheads. It is worrisome that even now, not all MDAs have been fully audited and automated into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which helped to expose the ghost workers. It is sad that many state governments are yet to adopt the IPPIS system. We enjoin them to quickly do so. Even among the MDAs that are fully IPPIS-compliant, insider dealings are reportedly still going on.
Altogether, considering the prevalence of ghost workers in the public service despite the current efforts, government still needs to do much more than it has done already. It should demonstrate a strong commitment to ensuring that all the MDAs are brought on board the IPPIS system as well as tighten all other loose ends that are still making payroll frauds possible. The EFCC should also ensure diligent prosecution of the syndicate already in its net. Sincerity of purpose is required in this regard.