Capital FM (Nairobi)

12 June 2014

Kenya: Biometrics Can Save the Country Billions Lost to Ghost Workers

Kenya's ballooning public wage bill will be the focus of discussion as National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich reads the 2014/2015 budget today. The CS has the unenviable task of taming the wage bill which has soared to 53 percent of the total budget. This is above the recommended standard for sub-Saharan Africa of 34 percent.

The government will spend over Sh530 billion to pay wages for over 70000 civil servants in the national and county governments including in the public universities, defense/NSIS and pensions. The number of civil servants tells half the story. The government has become the preferred employer attracting highly-skilled labour with market-rate remuneration and even higher allowances. Another factor in the rising wage bill is the billions that are paid to 'ghost workers.'

An interim audit by the Ministry of Devolution and Planning had estimated the country was losing Sh1.8 billion annually to ghost workers. The report was based on an audit of eight ministries which indicated Sh70 million had been paid to a considerable number of civil servants who had deserted/vacated their office, deceased, retired or on secondment. In Mombasa County, a head count revealed the county had over 200 people who are paid monthly salaries without clear and proper documentation.

President Kenyatta's gesture and commitment to take a pay cut was a clear indication of the concerns the government is facing. The President directed Government ministries to clean the payroll and identify malpractices in payroll management.

In neighboring Uganda, the government contracted consulting firm Ernest & Young to conduct a head-count of its 30000 public service workforce. The result was deletion of 8000 names from the payroll system as recommended by the auditor's office.

"This was validation exercise to ensure that only genuine civil servants were on the payroll and that there was no duplication," says Amaha Bekele, EY's regional leader of IT Risk and Assurance. "We used a biometric solution where we captured the details of personnel at their regional offices."

The government of Uganda had conducted an extensive media campaign asking civil servants to register at their local offices with the ID's, letter of appointment and payslips.

"Just by conducting the exercise, a considerable number of the 8,000 ghost workers failed to show up at the registration centres while others did not have the required documents," says Bekele.

The Ugandan government has saved Ush3.74 billion between February and April as a result of the adjustment of the payroll, according to the Auditor General's office.

Kenya's experience with the biometric system is bound to cause some concern in light of the 2013 election where the use of biometric voter registration system was a contentious issue. But Bekele asserts the biometric system of collecting vital personal information is as good as the personnel.

"Technology is as good as the deployment. If you have sufficient checks and controls then the system should work as intended."

The head count process is expected to take five months to complete and the Ugandan government is expecting to cut more ghost workers from the payroll.

Meanwhile, Kenya's Salaries and Remuneration Commission has engaged Ernest and Young in a contract that aims to harmonise public sector pay to ensure equitable remuneration across similar job groups.

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