MDAs’ illegal recruitment scourge – Punch

Illegal recruitment into the Federal Civil Service, the catalyst of bloated wage bills and recurrent expenditures, is still flourishing, amid efforts to sanitise the payroll and instil order in governance. This is a paradox that underlines the weakness of policy measures adopted so far to tame the scourge. The Senate is on the verge of passing a bill to curb the illegal act.

The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who expressed concern about this recently at the Senate, when she briefed it on the implementation of the 2017 budget, said the Ministries, Departments and Agencies replaced retired officers with multiple personnel without approval from the appropriate authorities, just as their salaries were not captured in the budget. It was reported that 183 MDAs had recruited 13,780 staff in recent years. Out of this number, 6,917 were recruited without any formal approval. Only the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army sought and got approval for their recruitment.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had in January 2016 said the government had burst an illegal recruitment syndicate. He labelled the malaise as an inherited odious legacy of the past administration. A total of 400 persons were covertly recruited and their names inserted into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. The IPPIS platform was designed to act as a bulwark against compromising the wage bill. Each of the victims, the minister said, was made to part with N400,000, which means that cumulatively, N160 million was collected by the fraudsters who were Grade Level 17 officers.

A bureaucratic milieu where an agency of government scales up its personnel from 74 to 245 between May 29 and December 2015, in defiance of an embargo, represents anything but efficiency and orderliness. An inter-ministerial committee found the Information Technology Agency culpable of this abuse. The result is a shortfall in the salaries of the MDAs, which are already encumbered by a staggering monthly wage bill of N142 billion. Ironically, the Budget Office, which ought to be a stickler for rules or prudential guidelines, was mentioned as one of the culprits. Discipline appears to have terribly broken down in the public service.

However, more work is expected from the finance minister, given her control of government’s purse. Before now, recruitment scandals had rocked the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, among others. These are jobs that were never advertised in line with civil service regulations. Cronyism, graft and rule of the thumb determine who is employed. No personnel cost other than what is contained in the budget should be released to any government agency. That is one way of giving meaning to Adeosun’s promise “to be very strict on agencies as this is where the ghost workers are created because those employed do not have any job specification.”

Indeed, the “ghost workers” syndrome has whacked the civil service for so long. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been able to detect about 50,000 of them and pensioners, for which N14.1 billion was saved monthly as of December last year, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu. The previous administration discovered more with the 60,000 “ghost workers” the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had announced.

No serious government accommodates employees that enter the service through the backdoor. One way to address this problem is to use readily available technologies to curb payroll fraud. Without the right protective processes in place, payroll fraud is easy to commit and difficult to detect. Adeosun should also make sure that all the MDAs flush out such elements and the racketeers punished in accordance with the law. These are the only measures that will restore sanity and due process to the system. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State did just that recently when his government sacked and, in some cases, suspended 190 magistrates and court registrars over irregularities in their appointments.

Now, it is no longer a legacy malady, but a vice that tests Buhari’s capacity to instil discipline and due process in the conduct of government business. People are less likely to commit a crime if they know there is a good chance that they will get caught and be punished. Ministers and permanent secretaries of the various ministries should demonstrate leadership by ensuring that agencies under their purview conform to extant civil service rules and public policies. In fact, bloated payroll persistence is a sign that government has yet to get to the root of the rot.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission has a critical role to play in this regard, pursuant to its statutory mandate as expressed in Section 6 (a to f) of the Act that established it. Among other functions, it is “to examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies and where such systems aid corruption, to direct and supervise their review.”

Above all, infidelity to due process in public service is a reminder of the imperative of a radical reform. The country has a truckload of reports in this regard, from the Philip Asiodu to Allison Ayida, and Ahmed Joda to Stephen Oronsaye panels. But all of them were rubbished by perennial lack of political will to implement them.

This missing link holds the key to any successful public service reform in Nigeria. It worked wonders in Singapore, whose civil service is renowned as one of the most efficient and least corrupt. There, open recruitment of employees, based on set criteria, is never compromised, just as there is performance ranking annually to ensure that every worker justifies his/her pay. These are global best practices that Nigeria should not continue to ignore, if it wants to enthrone a civil service that is service-delivery oriented and accountable.

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