Editor's Comment

Exorcise ghost workers

SIMON Miti.

ONE of the daunting tasks on Government’s shoulders today is how to apportion the country’s meagre resources among many competing needs.
From the constrained national treasury, funds are supposed to be allocated for smooth operations of Government, debt repayment, infrastructure development and investment in areas for economic growth.
It is in public domain that one of the areas that gobble a huge chunk of the resources is public workers’ remuneration.
For instance, Government is expected to spend about K25.4 billion on the wage bill against a budget of K91 billion next year.
It is undebatable that the high wage bill entails that there are limited resources left to other equally important areas such as infrastructure development and investments.
Delayed payments to public service workers in some instances is evidence that sustenance of the wage bill is a daunting task.
It is therefore disheartening to learn that Government has been bleeding huge sums of money through ghost workers.
A government payroll clean-up exercise on the Copperbelt has revealed that 4,000 employees are unaccounted for while K60 million is lost monthly through fraudulent activities on the payroll.
According to Secretary to the Cabinet Simon Miti, the recent clean-up exercise for the Public Service payroll, the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) and the Social Cash Transfer has revealed glaring cases of abuse and fraud.
For a country like Zambia with so many needs and yet constrained in terms of resources, it is unacceptable to allow such levels of abuse by those entrusted with custody.
It is saddening that the country has continued to lose huge sums of money at the hands of those charged with the responsibility to manage them.
It is also depressing that the civil service seems to be entrenching a bad work ethic void of integrity.
The issue of ghost workers drawing salaries from government coffers is long-standing.
Efforts have been made many times by concerned stakeholders to remove such but it seems they keep bouncing back on the payroll.
We have situations where people who do not work for Government are registered as employees and salaries and other incentives are disbursed to their accounts.
This, of course, is an inside job by the payroll end users, as observed by Dr Miti.
We’ve also had cases of people who are no longer employees due to retirement, resignations, dismissals or indeed death, still drawing salaries.
This is because someone somewhere has either not done their job or is benefitting from the anomaly by way of connivance.
The levels of fraud and abuse of public resources by public servants is depressing, to say the least.
Not too long ago civil servants made headlines in the media after it was discovered that 14,000 had illegally put themselves on the Farmer Input Support Programme.
The social cash transfer has not also been spared by long-fingered individuals hiding behind the civil service mask.
If left unchecked, these retrogressive tendencies stifle the country’s economic growth.
At a time that Government is implementing austerity measures, the country cannot afford to bleed resources in such a careless manner.
There is need to put in place stringent monitoring measures and seal all loopholes to ensure that the available resources are channelled to the intended needy areas, not in individuals’ pockets.
Given the escalating levels of fraud and dishonesty in the civil service, it is necessary to come up with initiatives aimed at imparting a culture of integrity.
As long as the public service is infiltrated with people who lack integrity, Government will keep on bleeding huge sums of money.
And as rightly observed by Dr Miti, permanent secretaries as controlling officers should take interest by ensuring that resources under their watch are secure.
There is therefore need for a thorough and holistic clean-up of the public service payroll to rid it of ghosts that have haunted Government for a long time.
It cannot be business as usual when resources meant to push the country’s development agenda are being hijacked by few greedy individuals.




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