Editor's Comment

Expose ghosts, jail culprits

THE directive by Auditor General Dick Sichembe for auditors to thoroughly scrutinise the government payroll system to expose ghost workers and bring culprits to book should be taken with the seriousness it deserves.
It is not a secret that year in, year out, Government loses millions of Kwacha paying non-existent civil servants.
A few months ago, a payroll clean-up exercise on the Copperbelt exposed about 4,000 ghost workers and Government was losing a colossal K60 million every month through the scam.
The country cannot continue to lose such huge sums of money amid the many needs the country is faced with.
The country, which is still in the process of developing, has a lot of needs competing against meagre resources.
From a limited budget, Government has the obligation of providing health care services, education, sanitation and social amenities to its citizens.
Government is expected to invest in building and maintaining infrastructure besides providing many other services to the public.
Government is also expected to look ahead and invest in growth areas like agriculture, mining, tourism and many others for the future sustainability of the country.
To invest in these areas, Government needs huge sums of money.
Like other developing countries, Zambia also has debt obligations to settle. This is unfortunately coupled with an exaggerated civil service wage bill.
Given the many competing needs as well as economic turbulences the country has gone through recently due to COVID-19, among other factors, there is need to account for every penny in the most prudent way.
At a time that Government is faced with daunting challenges and operating on a shoestring budget, it is absolutely necessary that every Kwacha is accounted for.
Government cannot sit by and watch the haemorrhaging of its meagre resources. The loopholes through which resources are being lost must be sealed without further delay.
It is good that Government is working tirelessly through the Smart Zambia Institute to rid the civil service payroll of ghost workers and to improve public service efficiency.
In line with Cabinet circular number 13 of 2019, Smart Zambia Institute recently conducted a physical count of workers in government work stations across the country.
The auditors should work with Smart Zambia Institute to ensure a thorough clean-up of the payroll.
As rightly observed by the Auditor General, the payroll management requires a comprehensive audit if Government’s exorbitant wage bill, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the national budget expenditure, is to be reduced.
Zambia needs more resources to be invested in growth areas as opposed to mere consumption.
Whether at organisation or national level, it is an anomaly to have such a huge wage bill. And the ghost workers discovered in the past explains it.
It is clear that some people within the system have found a conduit through which they siphon money from government coffers by maintaining dead and retired civil servants on the payroll.
This behaviour is criminal and must be halted as soon as possible to prevent further loss of national resources.
We know that this vice has persisted for years and across regimes, but we believe with concerted efforts and determination, it can be stopped.
There’s therefore need to ensure that those found wanting face the wrath of the law. This is the only way to get rid of the bad eggs in the system as well as deter would-be offenders.

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