Bayelsa ghost – The Nation

  • Another show of underhand fraud in the civil service system

An accountant with one of the local government councils in Bayelsa State has joined the long list of anonymous ghosts that collect salaries monthly. As with most other disclosures of this nature, the state government has refused to disclose his name. We keep wondering why this is so, as it has become the norm in virtually all tiers of government, from the local councils to the Federal Government. They always tell us that they have uncovered sharp practices in payrolls but hardly give full disclosures. They tell you by how much the government has been short-changed but hold on to the name/s of the accomplice/s.

In the Bayelsa instance, the commissioner for information and orientation,  Daniel Iworiso-Markson, who made the disclosure said the accountant had defrauded the local government for years, reaping illegally, millions in the process.  The commissioner, who spoke at a town hall meeting on civil servants reforms in Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state also told his audience that the said official has acquired many choice houses, estates and parcels of land across the state. According to Iworiso-Markson: “Recently, Governor Seriake Dickson had to order the arrest of an official of a council. He (the official) was collecting salaries of 300 people. Yearly, the officer fraudulently receives hundreds of millions of naira.

“That is in just one LGA and there are many places like that in the state. Some people are employed in civil service today, yet there is no document in their files. Instead, they were employed with affidavit.” In other words, but for the public sector reforms in the state ordered by Governor Dickson, the accountant would have continued to fleece the state government of the huge sums, without any chance of his fraudulent activities being discovered.

We commend the Bayelsa State government for joining other state governments that have executed staff audits in recent years. As a matter of fact, some state governments have had to be criticised by Nigerians over their unending verification exercises for their public servants and retirees, ostensibly to eliminate ghost workers from their payrolls because many pensioners had slumped and died during such verification exercises.

We can only hope that we have not heard the last of the Bayelsa accountant. We hope the state government, having cried out, would go the whole hog to name the culprit and his accomplices as well as promptly prosecute them as soon as the relevant agencies are through with their investigations. This is the only way we can put the recurring incidence of ghost workers behind us.

The Bayelsa incident should be an eye-opener to any other state government that has not carried out the necessary exercise to flush out such fraudsters from their civil service. Staff audits should be done periodically to weed out ghost workers early enough. People only complain when such verification exercises are not well structured and they often lead to unnecessary problems and sometimes death, for those involved.

Definitely, the instant case is only a tip of the iceberg. By the time the state government is through with the verification ordered by the governor, more astonishing discoveries could be made.

The security agencies should move in to examine the state’s payroll with financial experts, with a view to identifying the syndicates behind the racket and prosecuting them.  This is not something that can be perpetrated by an individual. The searchlight should also be beamed on the banks because, with Bank Verification Number (BVN) and other know your customer initiatives; it should be possible to discover such malpractices before money is credited into the accounts of the ‘ghosts’.

No purpose is served when governments tell us that huge sums of public funds had been fraudulently paid into private pockets only to be lily-livered in naming the culprits, not to talk of prosecuting them. This gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that governments lose the political will to do the needful in the long run because some untouchables or high profile public officials are involved.

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