At the meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation last Wednesday, the Council and indeed all Nigerians were informed of the “grand achievement” of the Ministry of Finance in discovering 45,000 ghost workers through the deployment of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. A total of 153,019 workers have so far been audited in 251 Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government leaving 321 MDAs not captured under the system. The system, according to the Ministry of Finance, was introduced to enhance efficiency in personnel cost, planning and budgeting. From these figures, it is clear that less than half of the federal MDAs have been audited and we have so far identified 45,000 ghost workers. The implication is that by the time we end this audit, it may be revealed that we have been paying over 100,000 ghost workers at the federal level alone every month!
Earlier media reports had indicated very bizarre findings. It was reported that in one ministry of about 500 staff, 350 were discovered to be ghost workers. In another, 11,000 workers of the 14,000 on the ministry’s payroll were ghosts. A number of issues arise from these disclosures. First, the deployment of the IPPIS started in October 2006 in seven pilot MDAs, namely the Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation, Federal Ministry of Finance Federal Ministry of Works, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Planning Commission and Budget Office of the Federation. Seven years down the line, the IPPIS has yet to cover half of all MDAs. If this information disclosed in the media is the true state of the IPPIS roll-out, then the speed of the reforms is slower than that of a snail. Who benefits from this reluctance to roll-out the reforms across all the MDAs? Definitely, it is not the ordinary Nigerian but the same entrenched interests in the civil service who are collecting the salaries and perks of office of these ghosts. What is so special about the IPPIS that it cannot be rolled-out in one financial year across the board for all the MDAs?
At some point in 2012, the Federal Government was reported to have slowed down on the implementation of the IPPIS because of intermittent internet connectivity problems. The IPPIS was also partly blamed for delays in the payment of the salaries of civil servants. This was the disclosure of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Otunla, during an oversight visit to his office, by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance. The excuse of poor internet connections is too dumb and lame in this day and age for such a project of national importance. We have agencies specifically charged by government to solve such challenges. Blaming the IPPIS for the delay in payment of salaries is clearly giving a dog a bad name to hang it. Whatever delays that might have been are clearly human failures that border on conspiracies and plans to frustrate the reforms.
The second point is that the revelations have proved beyond reasonable doubt that over 35 per cent of the annual budget which goes to personnel cost is a bloated vote, not meant for real and existing human beings who are said to be employed in the public service of the Federation. When you consider the remuneration of these ghosts with the fat emoluments of political office holders, then you will discover why we may never make any progress in terms of having enough resources to deploy to critical growth-inducing infrastructure development. Even the little that is available (which is less than the personnel cost every year) for such development will still be subject to the grand old corruption and inefficiencies which reduce it further to a pittance.
The third issue is that our personnel cost have almost remained constant over the years despite the deployment of the IPPIS which has discovered these ghosts. There is no empirical evidence of a lower wage bill despite the discoveries. The question arising is; if we are saving so much from the discovery of ghost workers, why do we still have such a high personnel budget? Where are the leakages still coming from? Who are then paid these money budgeted for salaries and allowancies? Are we removing existing ghost workers and thereafter padding the payroll with new ones? It is not enough to regale Nigerians with figures of how much has been saved. Where have these savings been channelled to?
The fourth issue arising from the above is that the political will to push through this reform is lacking. It is apparent that neither the President nor the Minister of Finance understands the magnitude of the challenge and how by their inaction, they have held back the development of Nigeria through their refusal to act expeditiously and decisively. The idea that such reforms are introduced gradually to draw lessons and further fine-tune them does not imply that it should take eternity to complete a simply transaction. Continuing a reform transaction for close to seven years increases the cost of the reform and denies the public the gains from such a reform process. Apologies and stories about why the administration and previous ones failed to do the right thing is not what Nigerians need to hear. Every Nigerian needs to get informed of the successes recorded, challenges met on the way and how they were surmounted.
The fifth issue is that despite the huge figures recorded as savings since inception in 2006 which run into hundreds of billions of naira, no one has been prosecuted and punished for obtaining and receiving those public funds. Or, did the money so discovered simply disappear on their own? Various sections of the Criminal and Penal Codes, the laws setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission have a plethora of provisions that categorically state that such actions and omissions are grave crimes against the state. Someone in the personnel department was responsible for compiling the list of persons to be paid including their positions and emoluments and the compilation was signed off as true and correct by the Accounting Officer being the Permanent Secretary, Director-General or other officer of equivalent status. Yet, no one is held responsible and accountable. The message is clear; the resources of the state belong to no one and there is a big scramble. Any part of the resources which you can appropriate, do so and no one will ask you either to return same or punish you for that.
The message to the President, the Ministry of Finance and all those involved in this IPPIS game for the last seven years is straight-forward. Kindly complete the roll-out to all the MDAs before the end of 2013; bring to book through criminal prosecution all those who approved and collected the hundreds of billions of naira through the fraudulent scheme; and require every Accounting Officer to explain any sudden increase in personnel numbers under him or her after the roll-out in his/her MDA. If the explanation is not satisfactory, prosecute him or her under the relevant laws and throw out all those who have illegally sneaked back into service after allegedly collecting their retirement benefits. It is only when we take these concerted actions would the discovery of the ghost workers by the government be relevant to us.
- Eze Onyekpere (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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