Auditor General Mildred Chiri addresses a press conference on the annual audit report tabled in Parly yesterday. AG asserted her office's mandate which is to audit central government ministries in Harare yesterday.-(Picture by Innocent Makawa)

EDITORIAL COMMENT : Ghost workers should be flushed out

In 2015, the Auditor-General’s Office released a shocking report, exposing how deep-rooted the problem of ghost workers was within the civil service.

In her report, Mrs Mildred Chiri said Government was losing a whopping $21 million every year in salaries to nearly 4 000 employees on the Government payroll who could not be accounted for, yet they were drawing monthly salaries.

These “workers” were draining the Government, and simply did not exist.

They were ghost workers.

Such a phenomenon did not only expose the Public Service Commission’s porous internal systems and lack of due diligence, but it created a huge hole within the Treasury, which was already battling with a bloated wage bill.

With loopholes evident in some ministries, ably-aided by some unscrupulous Government officials, millions of dollars continued to be siphoned out in the name of wage bills for non-existing workers.

Years after such a shocking revelation, the problem still exists.

Retired civil servants, people appointed to fake positions and even workers receiving multiple salaries for doing just one job, constitute a modest percentage of ghost workers housed within the civil service.

None of them perform any work, because they are simply not there.

Not only are they receiving salaries, but they also get other benefits commensurate with their said positions within varying ministries’.

As a result, the solution has remained as invisible as the problem itself.

We therefore welcome Government’s decision to introduce a biometric registration exercise for all servants to weed out ghost workers. With all things being equal, the system would be completed next year.

Ghost workers are essentially people on the payroll who are not actually employed at the organisation itself, and have never been employed.

These can be bogus individuals or ones with entirely fake identities, fraudulently draining the Treasury.

If anything, ghost workers are a creation of corrupt individuals within the PSC, whose intention is to fleece the Government, enrich those involved and, in the process, bloat its wage bill.

However, following years of such fraudulent activities, the nation can look into the future with hope, amid indications that the biometric system will put in place watertight systems and processes that will wall proof the Government’s wage bill.

The exercise would be conducted in three phases, and runs until 2020. Some of the processes include registration of the whole civil service into the biometric system. Once everyone’s personal details have been captured, the PSC will immediately carry out an exercise to ensure that the information within the Salary Service Bureau corresponds with the national biometric registration data.

Validation of submitted data will result in the commissioning of the system by 2020. We have no doubt that the introduction of the biometric system, will put an end to the problem of ghost workers.

That feat would only be possible if the biometric system is implemented holistically, without bypassing some crucial processes such as data capturing and meticulous verification of supplied information.

Matched by a biometric time attendance system, the system can also reduce high levels of absenteeism and dereliction of duty which has over the years become a bane of the civil service.

We believe the time is nigh for the Public Service Commission to measure up to the nation’s expectations by ensuring that the Government does not continue to lose money on such unscrupulous, illegal and demeaning activities.

The introduction of the biometric exercise is among a litany of measures the PSC intends to use to weed out ghost workers while modernising the management of the civil service.

It would also be prudent for the Government to go a notch higher by instituting proper investigations, on why the problem keeps on recurring in the public service.

Lasting solutions will only be tenable if those behind the practice are unmasked and urgent action taken to prevent them from wanton abuse of State resources.

The public service is the engine room for implementing Government decisions and policies, and therefore should be purged of all corrupt individuals and processes that compromises its integrity.

It should get rid of top Government officials who are deep-neck in nefarious activities such as padding the pay roll with fake names and non-existing posts.

We believe that an integrated approach implemented alongside the biometric system will curb the issue of ghost workers, while the Government continues to employ more reforms within the civil service.

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