Feeding fat on ghost workers

The menace of ghost workers remains a drainpipe on the economy. The different tiers of government are locked in a constant battle to checkmate the activities of saboteurs in the system, reports Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf
To say that the nation’s civil service is in dire need of a serious makeover is certainly stating the obvious. Truth is the civil service, which ought to be the engine of socioeconomic growth has remained the major albatross of successive governments.
If you take the case of the under productivity vis-à-vis the issue of inefficiency and penchant for dereliction of duties, among many other ills bedeviling the public service across all tiers of government, any discerning mind can only reach one conclusion: the civil service hardly compliments the all-important purpose of governance.
More worrisome is the fact that through acts of omission or commission, the shenanigans by a good majority of those saddled with the responsibility of administering the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) across the different tiers of government has often times led to huge economic costs. From bribery and corruption, truancy and all other forms of economic sabotage, the list is endless. However, for the avoidance of doubt and confusion, at this juncture, a short anecdote would suffice.
Over bloated workforce
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.But beyond the hues and cries, no one knows exactly how this whole scheme is perfected and eventually acted out by those involved.
An insider blows the whistle
In a chance encounter with The Nation, a staff in one of the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Aviation confided in our correspondent that there are ghost workers in the various MDAs under the ministry. The source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said this is made possible through 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.”
Pressed further, the source said: “A lot of directors in the ministry have benefited from this illegality one way or the other. They consider this as a form of preparing for retirement.”
Shocking as this revelation 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 at 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 bodes 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 recently revealed that the federal government has 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 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 that when 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. This would ensure that staff that are 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 the government. According to the finding, out of the over 46,821 ghost workers amounting to one out of every three workers in the audited organisations were reportedly found to be ghosts on the payrolls. Perhaps upon further scrutiny, the figures could have been higher.
From the local government system to federal ministries, directorates and agencies, the story is pathetically that of a painful paradox where names of non, existing workers are used to stuff up the payroll as ghosts that draw salaries for doing nothing at a time when living, able and qualified youths are roaming the streets of the major cities in the country in a forlorn search of employment opportunities. The IPPIS is one of the World Bank-engineered public sector reform programme 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.
Since the commencement of this project, successes recorded include the streamlining of payroll and personnel processes; personnel budget now based on actual as against estimate projections; prompt deduction and remittance of money to all third party funds, such as the Pension Fund Administration, National Health Insurance Scheme etc., as well as saving funds recovered from the ghost worker syndrome dogging the nation’s public service. The FG, 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 are never in the employ of government are used to claim money. The last administration said it discovered that it was paying millions of dollars per year in payroll to “ghost workers” who were neither legitimate nor eligible employees.
Sad as the menace of ghost workers is, it has been a major fixture in the public service. Giving an insight into this, Mr. Gbenga Kayode, a staff at Wordkraft Communications Limited, Lagos, in an opinion article titled: ‘The Nation: Menace of ghost workers and pensioners, recalled that the then Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation in 2003, Chief Joseph Naiyeju, then Accountant-General of the Federation, had disclosed that following a manpower verification exercise conducted by the federal government, personnel in the employ of the government were “found to be 215,000 not the 255,000 which were in the official records atthe inception of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration in May 1999.”
This figure invariably translated into a difference of about 40,000 non-existent names on the federal government’s payroll at the time. Similarly, the Minister for Finance in the era reportedly complained of “difficulties being experienced in the payment of salaries to government workers because “ministries do not have accurate figures of the staff strength of their departments.”
Citing a an Associated Press report which investigated the inclusion of a-month-old baby in the payroll, earning about “$150 a month for the last two or three years,” Kayode said the medium described the heart-rending tale as “a discovery indicative of the widespread corruption starving the oil-rich West African nation of much needed funds….”
In respect of the pensions, the sour story of corruption is not different. For example, the audit carried out by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) this year allegedly revealed “71,135 ghost pensioners on the government payroll,” leading to the recovery of over N1.5billion hitherto being deliberately or carelessly paid to the said ghost pensioners.
Rebuttal
However when The Nation 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 who spoke with The Nation in confidence, while acknowledging that there were provable scams, however said, things are getting 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 foregoing, Mr. Folu Olamiti, spokesman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. (ICPC) recalled that the former minister of Finance directed that the ICPC should 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, it is now more than three years since that report submitted yet there is no sign of any commitment on the part of the president to cut down on the waste that the over 420 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) has become.

Publication Date: June 21, 2015
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