Ghost Workers Syndrome: What Next After Revelations?

June 29 13:45 2013 Print This Article

By ‘Tunde Babalola

I was shocked when a cross section of Nigerians who attended the 2013 Ministerial Platform addressed by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on June 10, 2013 applauded the minister over the revelation of ghost workers in the Federal Civil Service.

No one even cares to ask Mrs “Prime Minister” and what next?

I thought, she should have been asked is that the way things were done when she was with the World Bank.

It is a well known fact the problem of ghost workers syndrome did not start with this administration but should it continue like that?

The phenomenon of ghost workers is as old as the civil service establishment in Nigeria and the trend has occupied the minds of policy planners at all levels of civil governance so much so that several tons of millions of tax payers’ fund are spent by government hunting for these ghost workers who are growing in number and notoriety.

Daily, Nigerians are inundated with the unverifiable story of effort that the federal or state government is making to flush out ghost workers but this same scenario has consistently repeated itself since the emergence of civil democracy in 1999 but those ghost workers are waxing much stronger.

The stance of the international community on adherence to best practice in governance was reiterated when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2000 gave former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration ultimatum till the end of that year to root out all ghost workers from the Federal Civil Service and complete management audits of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for the country to enjoy about $1 billion loan sought by it, but nothing was done by the administration of the Egba born General to really root out ghost workers syndrome despite the IMF’s threat.

It is not certain if the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan can as well do anything tangible as the arrow head of the Obasanjo administration such as the incumbent Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala are still very much around.
The minister had said that the Federal Government had so far identified 46,821 ghost workers in 215 of its ministries, departments and agencies where it had introduced the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).

The IPPIS is a new innovation of the government that is meant to enhance efficient personnel cost planning and budgeting by making personnel cost to be based on actual verified numbers and not estimates
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said as of January this year, the IPPIS had 153,019 members of staff of 215 MDAs, adding that work was currently ongoing to bring in the other 321 MDAs into the system.
This, she said was part of the reform measures aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of government resources.
The minister said, “The Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System enhances efficient personnel cost planning and budgeting, as personnel cost will be based on actual verified numbers and not estimates.
According to her “215 MDAs (153,019 staff) are on the IPPIS as of January 2013. Savings on payroll cost to date is N118.9 billion and work is ongoing to bring in other 321 MDAs not yet on the IPPIS. About 46,821 ghost workers have also been identified.”
This development indicated that there is every possibility for the number of ghost workers in the system to increase.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the issue of ghost workers has bedevilled the government for quite a while now that it is no longer news that it dogs the very essence of the government to the point of compromising it. What is probably curious is that the government has not yet found the courage to deal decisively with it.
It beggars belief that as many as 45,000 ghosts drew salaries and other emoluments up till January 2013 and not only is nobody being prosecuted, the officials have refused to say what they are doing about it.

The Minister of State, Mr Yerima Ngama had corroborated this figure during his earlier briefing. Truth told, both Mrs Iweala and Mr Yerima Ngama should have been more explicit in this revelation beyond giving the census figures of the ghosts and not the culprits who have been signing and issuing the cheques to the ghosts.

If the IPPIS Scheme is truly inviolable, it should be possible to detect those who have been behind the racket of exploiting the government’s lack of valid database for the satisfaction of their own greed.

Who have been signing the cheques? Who have been withdrawing from these accounts? Are there salary accounts in the banks that do not have the pictures of their owners? Have there been collusions or connivance with bank workers to perpetrate these larcenies? Are there officials who prefer to look the other way rather than apprehend those behind the fraud of ghost workers?

It is a shame that since ghost workers became a known fact in government, no culprit has been identified let alone punished. It is not enough to proclaim the existence of ghost workers, the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the swindle must also be identified, dismissed from the service and jailed.

Anything less can only confirm the people’s worst fears that the racket is endorsed by the government and its service arm as a means of feeding the greed of its corrupt but powerful officials who have outgrown both official reproach and sanction.

Any administration that is worth its salt should find it embarrassing to admit that it has been paying salaries to workers whose actual existence cannot be established beyond the pay point. In saner climes the top officials of such an administration would not only have lost their jobs, they would have been languishing in jail.

The fact that the Federal Executive Council made a feast of it at its fifth meeting this year even bodes ill for both its famous transformation agenda and its stance against corruption.

The admission that the IPPIS Scheme is yet to be operated in 321 MDAs by the Minister of State for Finance even speaks volumes about the lethargy of the government and the level of its commitment towards running an accountable and transparent administration.

It is painful to imagine what could have been done as capital projects with the money being paid to 45,000 ghost workers by a government whose budget appropriation has always been criticized as being unduly heavy on recurrent expenditure.
Ordinarily, such a government ought to be sensitive about its reputation and integrity enough not to fritter the country’s resources on feeding the greed of its corrupt officials. It is gratuitous insult on Nigerians for their elected government to openly admit that it has been paying salaries to ghost workers in the context of the pervasive poverty in the country.
But since Nigeria has been converted into a huge drama stage by political actors who no longer pay attention to the time- tested fact that no nation ever survives that does not operate on the basis of the respect to the principle and practice of rule of law and constitutionalism, may be it would be better to advise the federal government to please enter into ‘negotiation’ with ghost workers in the civil service so that the scarce funds usually used to hunt them would be used to bring democracy dividends to the greatest number of our people who will soon be greatly impoverished if the ill-advised anti-poor policy of withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products is implemented in 2012.

Government, please ‘negotiate’ with ghost workers since government business now thrives on negotiations with diverse groups of out- laws, professional law breakers and armed hoodlums.

For sure, these ghost workers will accept handsome final settlement of cash bonus and quit the public space unlike the armed militants who will hand over their weapons for cash and immediately buy a replacement for the surrendered weapon from the small arms market that have sprang up in all corners of the country.

If you think it does not make sense for government to ‘negotiate’ with ghost workers, then read the revelation by Finance Minister Mrs Iweala that ghost workers usually graduate to become ghost pensioners.

On October 22nd 2011, the media reported Mrs Iweala as outlining strategies by the Federal government to flush out ghost workers.

The Minister said that several ghost workers had even graduated to ghost pensioners in government’s payroll and that the biometric data capturing exercise, which the government embarked upon was designed to identify these ghost workers and ghost pensioners in the country.

But Nigerians have heard these same stories all over again since 1999 with no meaningful result.

The rate at which politics and government business in Nigeria is rapidly becoming one huge racket and organized scam, will anyone be surprised if tomorrow we wake up to find out that government is indeed ‘negotiating’ with ghost workers?

Wonders they say, shall never end in Nigeria.

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