This is not the best times in the relations between government, especially at the state level, and their workers. Very few states can presently claim any yummy or cosy relationship between the labour leaders and government. Most states are not even touching the new minimum wage with a long pole. They cannot try it when they still owe arrears of the old one. Most states claim they will need to use over 90 per cent of their monthly allocation if they must satisfy the demands of workers.
The recent conflagration in Kaduna that compelled the Federal Government to step in to negotiate came from disagreements over workers’ wages.
What many find shocking is that amidst the problem of dwindling resources, the issue of ghost workers is still eating deep and serving as a huge conduit pipe draining the economies of many states.
Just recently, Bauchi State announced the names of a total of 715 civil servants removed from the payroll of the Government as part of its efforts to address the problem of ghost workers in the state which has remained hydra-headed.
The disclosure was made by the deputy governor, Sen. Baba in Bauchi shortly after the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting, which was presided over by the State Governor, Sen Bala Mohammed Abdulkadir.
He said that the aim of the disclosure was to keep the people of the state abreast with the progress the government is making in addressing issues regarding salaries in the state, adding that the intention of the committee set up about some weeks ago is to have a sanitised payroll system.
This challenge is not limited to Bauchi. Two teams set up by Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, to audit primary school teachers and local government workers in the state recently found that a whopping 22,556 ghost workers were on the payroll of government.
Of the 22,556 ghost workers, 14,762 were discovered at the local government level, while 7,794 were found to be collecting salaries from public primary schools without being teachers. This fraud costs the state government N420 million per month!
That is not surprising. The problem of ghost workers has been a recurring issue in both federal and state civil services in Nigeria. This has persisted even when most governments conduct biometric verifications almost every year. At the end of each verification exercise, numbers representing discovered ghost workers and money saved are rolled out. No one is usually arrested or prosecuted. The fraud continues in a cycle.
Claims of discovery of ghost workers by politicians and huge savings made have become political gimmicks that politicians regularly flaunt as achievements. The ghost workers syndrome is neither limited to one state nor is it a new trend. A former governor of Kwara State once disclosed that the ghost workers syndrome has been with us for more than 30 years. That is most probably a conservative estimate.
In June 2016, it was reported that the Federal Government and ten other states had in the last five years lost over N538bn to ghost workers. Out of that staggering amount, the Federal Government paid N220bn to 103,000 ghost workers between September 2013 and May 2015. The other N318bn was paid by ten states, namely: Katsina, N30bn; Kano, N17bn; Rivers, N60bn; Benue, N10.2bn; Oyo, N18bn; Abia, N26.5bn; Adamawa, N20.4bn; Akwa-Ibom, N15bn; Bayelsa, N120bn; and Ekiti, N1.2bn.
As revealed by the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) in Nigeria, a one-month-old baby made $150 a month as a public sector ghost worker. PTF is a New York-based international organisation that works with Civil Society Organisations across the world to facilitate citizens’ engagement in fighting corruption and holding governments and public officials accountable.
In 2012, PTF calculated that ghost workers defraud the Nigerian government of $530 million each year, effectively crippling most budgets at the state and local government levels.
Governments at all levels in Nigeria are arguably the biggest employer of labour. However, their huge workforce is always riddled with a lot of challenges. The problem of ghost workers poses the most threat. Payroll fraud and all forms of employee impersonations are a huge drain on the resources of the country as billions of Naira are spent paying salaries and pensions entitlements to nonexistent workers and in many cases to individuals who have no reason to collect such.
For example, the Ministry of Finance at a time revealed that almost 24,000 ghost workers were discovered in the payroll of the federal civil services which saved the government in excess of N2billion Naira in salaries in 2016. This is in addition to the over 60,000 ghost worker weeded out of the Federal Government payroll in 2014.
Many reasons have been adduced for the menace of ghost workers in Nigeria and other developing countries of the world. Analysts argue that the predominance of fraud is a result of inadequate research/information on various strategies used by perpetrators.
In most cases, apart from collecting deceased workers’ pensions, for instance, government officials register migrant workers to vote, and in return, the migrants are illegally placed on the government payroll.
PTF listed the problem of ghost workers as the core of corruption in Nigeria, echoing what the government knows but would not admit. Solving the problem, they reason would be almost impossible so long as many political stakeholders continue to benefit from the system. Thus, the civil service in Nigeria, through the ghost workers scam, has become a horrific black hole into which huge sums of public funds disappear. And the authorities appear unwilling to firmly fix the problem because the syndicate involved is part of the ruling political system.
Partly due to ghost workers, every year, recurrent expenditure swallows a huge part of the budget, leaving little or nothing for capital expenditure. These are the reasons most states perpetually do not have enough money for road maintenance, electricity, public transportation, and other public infrastructures.
Until politics cease from serving as a venture to share the “national cake” and Nigerians learn to elect people with proven records of integrity as leaders, the problem of ghost workers will remain for a long time.
It is also worthy of note that basic controls can discourage and limit opportunities for ghost workers fraud. Segregation of authorities and duties; substantive reviews of payroll at multiple levels; and an informed management team can go a long way to tackle this menace.
These principles of monitoring can also work for general financial management and budget execution. Controls are useful only if they are operated effectively.
Similarly, the operations of the present Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System designed to check this type of fraud need to deepen, with its operation extended to every level of governance in the country. Ghost workers syndrome should be tackled comprehensively if states and local government areas must experience quality development.