Garissa — An ongoing audit of Kenya's 47 counties has revealed that the national government is paying salaries to thousands of workers who have been fired, who no longer perform their duties, and, in some cases, who died years ago.
Since July, Kenyan counties have been performing a headcount of workers to weed out these "ghost workers", trim their wage bills and improve service delivery, said Council of Governors Chairman Isaac Ruto.
"We have all along known that the government has been paying ghost workers, but what is shocking is that a month [since] the exercise began, more than 10,000 non-existent workers have been identified," he told Sabahi.
The audit comes as the Kenyan system of government devolves from the former provincial set-up by giving more power to the new counties.
"We expect the national government to transfer virtually all functions, including payment of workers' salaries, to the counties by January next year. The staff audit is to ensure that the counties kick off with clean payment registers," said Ruto, who is also governor of Bomet County.
So far, the audit has shown that the former provincial and municipal councils, as well as state-run health institutions, are riddled with ghost workers, he said.
"We are targeting the workers who only show up at the end of the month to collect salaries. The non-existent workers are the ones who lead demonstrations against the government whenever there is a slight delay of payment, but they are always absent from their designated work stations," Ruto said, adding that devolution would ensure that Kenya's counties break away from past corrupt employment practices.
In addition to finding ghost workers, the audit is checking the academic credentials of county employees to verify they are qualified for their jobs. Each county's public service board will determine the next action for those employed without proper qualifications, Ruto said.
Some workers who lacked qualifications for particular jobs were hired through bribery or cronyism, he said.
"We understand that there was collusion in employing people in exchange for kickbacks, but after the exercise we will seek to institute investigations and prosecutions of the offenders," Ruto said.
The audit will not designate county workers who have taken study leaves or been assigned to duties in other locations as ghost workers, Ruto said.
In addition, the audit will help identify institutions whose services need to improve by becoming leaner and more efficient, because ineffective or absent people on payrolls impede qualified applicants from taking positions.
"There are crucial institutions that have inadequate human capital, while others have it in excess. The exercise will help in re-distribution of the labour where necessary," Ruto said.
Even the dead were being paid:
In Mombasa County alone, the audit found that up to 1,000 ghost workers were on the government's payroll.
The Mombasa County administration inherited these non-existent or dead employees from the defunct Mombasa Municipal Council, according to Khalid Walid, a local finance official told Kenya's The Standard. The ghost workers in this county earned a total of 50 million shillings ($577,000) in wages after being paid unnoticed for years, he said.
Deceased workers who were being paid via bank transfers continued to receive funds deposited into their accounts after their death, former Ademsajida Ward Councillor Abdirahman Ahmed told Sabahi. But when low-level workers, who were paid in cash by the former provincial councils, died their payments were pocketed by the officials in charge of disbursing their salaries, he said.
In Garissa County, the audit identified about 300 people who were not working but still being paid.
"We also define a ghost worker as a government worker who chooses to do their own businesses at the expense of the public time. We are basically invoking the Public [Service Commission] Act and the code of conduct of civil servants to correct the failure of the past system of government," Garissa County Governor Nathif Jama Adam told Sabahi.
"[Ghost workers] have been swindling the government for years. For prudence purposes, the county government will not pay anyone who does not deliver services," he said.
Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero said it struck the names of more than 1,000 ghost workers from its payroll.
"If someone is getting paid then they must work for that money. We will strengthen the mechanism of ensuring that those remaining deliver or be sacked," he told Sabahi, adding that a high wage bill and complaints about poor service from Nairobi residents initially aroused the administration's suspicions.
In Wajir County, the audit revealed 100 workers on the state's payroll who did not work, according to county Governor Ahmed Abdullahi.
Some of those people were dead, some were working for non-governmental organisations in Somalia and the Dadaab refugee complex, and some had been fired, he told Sabahi.
"The anomaly led the national government not posting, say, health workers or teachers to the county because their data indicates that the county has the staff. This led to poor service delivery and the audit will rectify that misconception," he said.
Wajir area hospital nurse Mohamed Noor Ali said the county administration should be careful with its audit and give people a fair hearing before designating them as ghost workers, as some may have been reassigned to other duties or gone on study leave.
"There are instances when the national government [sent] some of its staff to nongovernmental organisations working for humanitarian purposes within the country for a given period of time, ranging from months to years," he said, adding county and national governments need to work together to create a final list of non-existent workers.