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Opinions of Friday, 22 November 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Ghost workers at Korle-Bu, heads must roll

Media reports in Ghana indicate that one thousand and fifty-two (1,052) members of staff cannot be accounted for at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) after a head count conducted between October 23, 2013 and November 5, 2013. An additional 60 who are paid through the hospital’s internally generated funds (IGFs) can also not be accounted for. This came to light after a head count of staff jointly by the Acting Chief Administrator, Rev. Albert O. Botchway and the Controller and Accountant General’s Department (CAGD). According to the Daily Graphic, out of the 4,252 staff on CAGD payroll, only 2,752 personally appeared and checked their names during the head count.

There are another 490 employees of other organisations such as Ministry of Education working at KBTH also on CAGD payroll but yet to be head counted. Of the 423 newly employed nurses, 339 presented themselves for counting, leaving 84 who were yet to be counted. On those paid from the IGFs, Rev. Botchway said 287 out of 347 personally checked their names, leaving 60 who had not been counted (see, “Ghosts’ haunt Korle-Bu: 1,052 on hospital’s payroll”, Daily Graphic, November 15, 2013). In this article, I want to discuss the canker of corruption in Ghana with reference to ghost workers at KBTH.

First, let’s get the figures simplified as the above appear to be a bit confusing. My understanding is that here are 4,252 workers at K’Bu on CAGD payroll out of which 2,752 have been verified as existing in person with human body and soul. There are another 490 out of 4,252 workers on CAGD payroll who are yet to be verified as existing in person. There are additional 423 newly employed nurses who are paid from K’Bu’s IGF but not on CAGD payroll, and 339 of them have been verified as existing in person.

For the purposes of this article and to avoid double counting, let us agree that the total number of workers at K’Bu as at November 5, 2013 who are paid from public funds was 4,675 (4,252 on CAGD payroll plus 423 new nurses paid from IGF). A total of 3,091 (2,752 plus 339) are verified with 490 yet to be verified. We can confidently conclude that, at least, a total of 1,094 workers do not exist or are ghost workers. That is, 4,675 less (3,091 verified plus 490 to be verified). I am sure the figure of ghost workers will go up after the 490 have been verified. We can also conclude that ghost workers represent 23.4% of the total workforce at K’Bu (from both CAGD and IGF payrolls).

I am sure this is no news in Ghana and not surprising to me. However, what is shocking to me is that, the Acting Chief Administrator and the CAGD did not announce any concrete actions to immediately stop the payment of salaries into the bank accounts of the ghost workers and to identify who are fraudulently and criminally receiving the salaries. Below is what was reported as the solution.

“To find a lasting and realistic solution to the problems with the payroll, Rev Botchway said the Ministry of Health and the CAGD were rolling out an electronic payroll management system in the hospital to be implemented from December 2013. That, he said, would help the hospital to be actively involved in managing its own payroll and eliminate the problems associated with it. Rev Botchway said there would be several in-built levels of validation by supervisors, heads of departments and units and directors of the hospital to ensure that people worked before they were paid. Also to ensure that the system was made tighter to deter people from infiltrating ghost names into them, a clock-in system was to be introduced soon to monitor the attendance of staff on a daily basis”.

Are you surprised? I was baffled when I read the above report because there were no indications of what actions are being taken immediately to stop the loot. I expected Rev. Botchway to have told Ghanaians that the police and BNI have been given the names and details of the ghost workers (bank account details and addresses) to trace those who have been receiving the money. I guess he is following the footsteps of the President of the Republic. Ghana is under the rule of law so things take longer. Rule of law in Ghana has now become an excuse not to act, not to hold public officers accountable; an excuse for cover up and corruption. I am also shocked that up to the time of writing, the Minister for Health or Ministry of Health has not ordered immediate investigations into this corruption.

Who really believes that computerisation of the K’Bu payroll will end the corruption of ghost workers? In fact, that could even be worst because IT systems could easily be manipulated to slot in ghost names. The truth is that this matter will die a natural death for the simple reason that, it is part of the “create, loot and share” corruption industry in Ghana. K’Bu is not alone and ghost workers are prevalent in every public hospital and health institutions across Ghana. The same is true of all the ministries, public agencies and institutions from district to national. In fact, I even suspect there are ghost workers on the payroll at the presidency.

Ghost workers in the public sector are very common and as old as the institutions themselves and well organised from local to the CAGD. The money from the salaries of the ghost workers are shared among the gang who perpetrate the act from the local workplace to district, regional and national. That is precisely why the Acting Chief Administrator and CAGD failed to announce any specific actions that are being taken immediately to identify the fraudsters and to recover the monies paid to the criminals because if immediate steps are taken, either the Acting Chief Administrator himself or some of his close colleagues would be found culpable.

The Daily Graphic report did not mention for how long Rev. Botchway has been the Acting Chief Administrator at K’Bu, but I would be surprised if he is fresh and new at K’Bu. I am sure he has been there in some senior role prior to becoming Acting Chief Administrator. If so, did he begin to suspect ghost workers on K’Bu payroll only when he became the Acting Chief Administrator? There are more questions than answers for Rev. Botchway. For example, what happens between now until the computerised payroll system is implemented? How long have the ghost workers been on the CAGD and IGF payrolls? Do workers at K’Bu receive monthly pay advice slips and if so, who are the individuals collecting the pay advice slips for the ghost workers?

What are the solutions? In the short term and with immediate effect, the following actions MUST be taken as a matter of urgency:

1) The details of all the unidentified (ghost) workers (names, contact and bank accounts details should be provided to CID and BNI to be identified and arrested for further investigations; 2) All the bank accounts where the salaries for the unidentified workers are paid into must be frozen;

3) Senior managers at the Human Resources Department responsible for recruitment and appointments who ought to have known about the existence of ghost names must be suspended with pay whilst this matter is under investigations;

4) Senior managers at the Finance Department who ought to have known or checked that salaries are paid to real workers but failed to do so for whatever reason/s must also be suspended with pay whilst investigations are ongoing;

5) Investigations must be conducted at CAGD to find out if any of the workers who process and pay salaries of K’Bu employees are connected to and benefitted from the loot and if so, also be arrested for investigations;

6) All those found to be involved in this crime of stealing thousands if not millions of public funds after investigations, should be arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences according to the amount they received, if found guilty;

7) All the monies must be fully recovered from them with interests. If they have used the monies to acquire assets, the assets should be sold to recover the money so that they cannot enjoy them on release from prison;

8) The investigations and prosecution should be treated with the highest priority because justice delayed is justice denied, especially for those who may be innocent but on suspension and finally;

9) All the above should be implemented in accordance with the rule of law.

For the medium term, the government should order a head count of all public sector workers from local level to the Presidency with immediate effect and where ghost workers are found, the nine recommended actions above must be followed. This could be done by an Executive Order from President Mahama.

In the long term, the answer lies in decentralisation of public sector payroll to district level. The computerisation alone will not end ghost workers within the public sector as long as employees are engaged by a district in far away corner of Ghana, and the salary is approved and paid by the CAGD in Accra without any effective verification systems.

The Biometric Verification Machines used for the elections could be used to weed out ghost workers. In addition, the CAGD should regularly make visits workplaces to verify workers on the public payroll. The CAGD payroll should have systems in place to stop the continuous payment of salaries to workers who have left their employment either through resignations, dismissals, retirements and death. These actions should be in addition to the computerisation and the clocking system.

Your Excellency, President Mahama, if you are serious about fighting corruption in the public sector, then you must act on this. If at K’Bu alone, at least, 23.4% of the total workforce is ghost workers, just imagine the whole of the public sector. The public sector pay which is consuming 70% of internally generated revenue could be reduced by at least 20% but I believe it could be over 30%. That will result in more revenue for much infrastructure development and other essential areas such as education, energy, water, sanitation but currently ending up in the pockets of individuals as salaries for non existing workers on the public sector payroll.