Africa has many problems, but “ghost workers” on public payrolls appear to be longstanding and escalating. Some countries are on record as having succeeded in waging war on non-existent workers in public service, while others have failed miserably.
New zeal and vigour
A snapshot of Africa’s graft fight reveals that new presidents are coming in with new zeal and vigour aimed at curbing embezzlement of public resources through ghost workers, among others. It is a very diverse picture.
In Tanzania, President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli’s crackdown on ghost workers is in full swing. For this, he has won accolades in and outside Tanzania.
I travelled to Kenya and Ghana during the first three months of this year, and was amazed at the scope of public debate on Dr Magufuli’s crusade against embezzlement and outright theft of public funds.
Kenyans and Ghanaians may struggle to pronounce Magufuli’s name, but the message was clear – efforts by Tanzania’s fifth phase government under Dr Magufuli were having an impact beyond Tanzania’s borders!
Like he has been heard saying, ghost workers are a nuisance for every well-wisher amongst and around us.
In 2015 alone, the government of Tanzania paid a staggering Sh141.4 billion (equivalent to $64.80 million by then) to phantom workers on its payroll. This money essentially ended up in the bulging pockets of crooked people who are part and parcel of the same government.
The ghost workers problem was being taken for granted until Dr Magufuli made it part of his agenda early this year. We now know that at least 10,000 workers on the 560,000-strong public service payroll are non-existent. This gives one an idea of the extent of the problem.
Fortunately, Dr Magufuli is tackling the menace head-on. This is part of wider efforts to clean up public service, which has seen a number of senior officials being shown the door in the last six months.
The list of bigwigs shunted aside by Dr Magufuli includes Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau boss Edward Hoseah and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) chief Rished Bade, who was sent home last November along with five other senior TRA officials in connection with the dubious clearance of over 340 containers.
Others on the list of recent high-profile dismissals include Awadh Massawe of Tanzania Ports Authority and Ministry of Transport Permanent Secretary Shaaban Mwinjaka.
Dr Magufuli also sacked the Director General of the National Identification Authority (Nida), Mr Dickson Maimu, pending an investigation into the questionable expenditure of Sh179.6 billion in the national identity cards project. Also, Reli Assets Holding Company (Rahco) boss Benhadard Tito was suspended over tendering irregularities.
On the war against ghost workers, Shinyanga Regional Commissioner Anne Kilango-Malecela became the first victim when she reported on the saga in what seemed to be a business-as-usual style.
I fully support President Magufuli in his endeavour to rebuild a culture of respect for decent work and wage war against embezzlement of public funds.
Beyond Tanzania, some African countries are busy doing this or that against payroll dishonesty. Neighbouring Kenya, for instance, has started to register civil servants biometrically in a move aimed at getting rid of ghost workers following an audit conducted in 2014, which revealed that at least $1 million (Sh2 billion) was being lost every month to about 12,000 phantom workers.
Also, Nigeria, which is Africa’s biggest economy, had 23,846 ghost workers struck off the payroll list in February as part of a campaign promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari last year.
Like Tanzania and Kenya, the ghost workers in Nigeria cost the nation significantly, with $ 11.5 million being lost every month.
On varied scales, the problem has also been experienced in Uganda and South Africa, where efforts to curb it were not very successful.
In Uganda, about 6,000 ghost workers were indentified and struck off the payroll in 2014, but a political decision was made last year to restore them as the country’s general election drew closer.
In South Africa, there were at least 36,000 phantom workers in just one province by the end of September 2015, and the country was losing 19 billion rand to the scourge annually.
We need to take serious measures to crack down on ghost workers in Africa, and Tanzania is showing the way in what is obviously an uphill battle. I take this opportunity to commend Dr Magufuli on this.
Deus Kibamba is trained in Political Science, International Politics and International Law