opinionBy Mohammed Ekpa
Recently, Paul Audu, the Accountant General of Kogi State, came out with a heart-rending revelation that the state government uncovered 800 non-existing primary schools and at least 3,000 ghost teachers on its payroll during the recent screening exercise in the state. He said the screening had revealed a lot of unwholesome dealings of corrupt accounting.
Before the revelation by the accountant general, the president of the state chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Alex Abutu had also come up with the disturbing news of sharp practices at the local government level where names of minors and non-existent staffers were found on the payroll of almost all the councils, while many others have been discovered to collect salaries twice a month.
He also revealed that names of former employees who have retired from service for over five years are still on some LGA payrolls enjoying undue benefits. He said the irregularities were discovered during the screening exercise by the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in collaboration with the union.
The union president said the delay in payment of salaries in several local governments in the state, some spanning a period of three months, was due to the irregularities discovered on their payroll.
In its effort to reduce the cost of governance, Governor Idris Wada led-administration in the state had set up a committee to review the Sally Tibot Staff Audit Exercise set up by the immediate past governor Alhaji Ibrahim Idris to look at high wage bills that had stalled development in the state.
During the audit instituted by Idris administration some high ranking officers of key parastatals were arrested for allegedly distributing forged letters of appointment which were backdated. Some key officials were also found to be behind the listing of over 5,000 ghost workers in one agency in the state.
On the whole, the staff audit exercise which was carried out with the aid of biometric data capturing technology revealed that up to N1 billion had been wastefully expended paying salaries and emoluments to ghost workers. Despite the exercise by the last administration, it is disheartening that the cases of ghost workers still remain in the state.
The two revelations above only go to confirm that the state is still expending enormous revenues paying salaries to ghost workers, i.e. phantom workers, who have been listed on the state's payroll through the fraudulent instrumentality of certain officials in government, who actually pocket the salaries.
If over 5,000 ghost workers could exist in just one parastatal God knows how many of such would be uncovered through a proper audit exercise in the local government areas, which from all indications, are major culprits in this practice. Without a proper exercise to rid the councils of the menace, by the time the state government agrees to implement the new minimum wage at the third tier, I don't think the allocation accruing to it from the federation account may be enough to pay salaries.
There is the need to therefore carry out a through exercise in that tier of government to purge it of this malaise.
The state government must also place a continuous searchlight on certain parastatals and ministries indicted by the review committee over their alleged roles in the ghost workers' scam. The ministries, according to the committee, were those of works, agriculture, health and education. Others included the Office of the Head of Service, Office of the Accountant General, Health Management Board as well as the Science and Technical Education Board (STEB).
The chairman of the committee and former commissioner for budget and planning, Alhaji Sani Adamu, while submitting the report to the governor, revealed that in STEB, for instance, majority of the over 500 teachers deployed to the organisation have found their way into other employments as a result of being redundant while their salaries were still being paid by the board.
The report equally expressed concern over what it described as the indiscriminate recruitment of staff in certain organisations like the state sanitation board. That is why the on-going war against ghost workers must be a continuous one until the system is rid of the menace.
State governments have been particularly traumatised by the unfolding trend of dwindling revenues. One area that has perennially attracted official concern is the high wage bills and the challenge of guaranteeing that the huge bills are worthwhile and not fictitious.
With recurrent expenditure accounting for more than 50 per cent of budgets of all tiers of government, reducing the cost of governance is one major challenge the states face taking into consideration the reduced revenue allocations from the Federation Account.
The review of the last audit exercise no doubt will send jitters into minds of officials who may have been instrumental to the listing of ghost workers but escape arrest. These officers may do all they could to frustrate efforts aimed at sanitising the civil service.
The state government may start by removing appointees of the immediate past administration, who are still manning strategic agencies and holding offices in the state. Such elements helped in bringing the state to its present pitiable condition and therefore don't deserve to hang around to continue to pollute the system with impunity.
Mohammed wrote this piece from Kabawa, Lokoja, Kogi State