The challenge of ghost workers – Thisday

Those behind the racket should be exposed and brought to book

In a celebratory mood, the Enugu State government recently announced that it had discovered and weeded 6,280 ghost workers from the nominal rolls of local government councils and the pensions’ board. Similar story obtains in practically all the states where governors gleefully announced the number of “ghosts” they have been able to stop from earning wages. Yet this blatant corruption, which runs into hundreds of billions of naira every year–from the federal to the state and local government—thrives, because there is no willingness to tackle what has become a perfect scam.

Indeed, the problem of invisible workers has become a metaphor for Nigeria’s malaise. It is therefore time for the authorities to begin working to end the current system by which scarce national resources are pocketed by a few selfish individuals. We also believe that government, at all levels should take the issue of ghost workers very seriously by adopting a holistic, rather than ad hoc approach to tackling the menace. And those who are behind the racket should be exposed and brought to book. This mindless plunder of scarce state resources has lasted long enough. It must be stopped forthwith.

However, unless the authorities in both the federal and the 36 states adopt a structured and serious institutional response to the ever recurring problem of ghost workers in most government establishments, the syndicate that thrives on inflating the actual number of workers and fleecing the nation will keep smiling to the banks.

Not long ago the Federal Civil Service Commission declared that over 30 per cent of the workers on its payroll were phantom staff. And then, a workers’ verification exercise carried out at the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) threw up 17,000 fake workers on its payroll. Each of these ghost workers had been receiving regular salaries and allowances for a long time; and the sum amounted to billions of naira. The agency also found another 6,000 casual workers presumably its employees who did not exist, except for those who collaborated to use their names to draw funds from the national till.

The issue here is not discovering ghost workers as the regular announcements have become rather boring. What Nigerians would like to know are the steps being taken to deal with confirmed cases and prevent new ones. For now, there is no sign that anything is being done to stop the fraud.

We ought to know, for instance, how and when these names got on the payroll and for how long they have been there. The security agencies should tell Nigerians into what accounts the monies so fraudulently drawn have been paid over the years; and the total sum the nation has lost so far. Beyond this, there is the matter of the criminal collusion of principal officers of state who carry out their policing and monitoring roles in the breach. It is unacceptable that Nigerians should be periodically regaled with tales of discovery of ghost workers, while no visible attempts are made to get to the bottom of such fraud and bring the wrath of the law to bear on its perpetrators.

The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) launched by the former Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, uncovered most of the fraud through the use of biometric data capture machine. Because ghosts have no finger prints, the bubble burst for those behind the inflated staff figures. Forthwith, the fake workers who have regularly survived the “pay at sight” charade of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) stood out like sour thumbs. The level of collusion here is really the issue and until such issues are sorted out, government will continue to lose billions of naira to unscrupulous officials.

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