Payroll fraud (the placement of non-existing, underage, retired or deceased staff’s names on the payroll especially of government concerns) which many Nigerians have come to know as “Ghost workers” is a deep-rooted problem for most governments, especially in Nigeria.
It will not be far from the truth to say that this ‘cancerous’ evil against the State is almost becoming the news-maker across most African countries these days. It is mostly caused by the absence of audit and accountability which allows corrupt payroll staff to manipulate government expenditures through ways they feel can never be exposed.
In a brave attempt to combat this predicament in Adamawa State, the Executive Governor, Senator Muhammadu Jibrilla Bindow, post-election, constituted a Payroll Verification Committee headed by Chief Maurice Vunobolki: an accomplished accountant and financial expert.
As part of its terms of reference, the committee was empowered to verify “the State Local Governments’ workforce (existing payroll structure) with a view to creating a database for effective implementation of e-payment salary system”.
Having followed this issue assiduously and relentlessly, I am aware that the task-force worked laboriously and uncovered 12,609 ghost workers from the 51,369 staff on the on the payroll of all the local government councils in the State.
According to the report, the committee had cleared 38,760 members of staff and rolled them over to the e-payment database. The rest were cases ranging from “failure to show up for the screening exercise”, “underage employment”, “Payment Voucher” (PV) and “Pay Record Card (PRC) alteration”, “employments that violated executive approvals and irregular employments.”
The success of the audit is also expected to practically rake in a whooping N548.5m to the State’s treasury as Personal Income Tax annually.
In the end, the verification exercise was reported to have exposed a gross monthly financial implication of N341.5m and N4.1bn annually.
But in a highly unusual move that many, including my humble self, considered as counter-productive, silly and not in the interest of the State, representatives of “The Coalition of Local Government Civil Servants” in Adamawa State went public with their views. What was striking, though, was the unseemliness of their opinion.
According to their submission, they “urged Governor Bindow to disregard the Maurice Vunobolki report and further “lauded the State House of Assembly for passing a resolution suspending this lofty reform initiatives of the Governor aimed at checking this malady called payroll fraud.
This apparently daft move is nothing but a strategy being implemented to double-cross the public, and a well calculated ploy to frustrate the good-intentioned efforts of the Governor Bindow-led administration in curbing financial misrepresentation in the system.
This move must be stopped if we do not want the current process of development in Adamawa State halted by some underhanded individuals who obviously do not mean well for our dear State.
While the subversive issue of ghost workers is part of the country’s unfortunate economic equation, concerned Adamawa personalities have started to ask questions on why a “Coalition of Local Government Civil Servants” will call for the suspension of a report aimed at saving the local government money when it is public knowledge that Katsina State now saves about N500m monthly, Kano State is able to save over N283.5m monthly and Abia state had succeeded in reducing its monthly wage bill from N1.5bn to N1.0 57bn respectfully following audit programs and flushing out ghost workers.
But again the answer is simple: the “coalition” behind the fraud is convinced that comments that greet such disturbing findings only draw normal newspaper trials and committee reports are only materials which “usually end under government drawers”. Hence looting “will” continue unabated.
That is an outmoded strategy.
With this in mind, the 21 Local Government Council representatives have uniquely shown that they are unqualified to serve as public officers both in integrity and decision making process.
Given their ignorance, it is perhaps not surprising that they offered no solution besides calling for the suspension of e-payment scheme initially kicked off.
I like to remind the “Coalition” of a Hausa proverb that ‘if the speaker is a fool, the listener is not’.
Above all, while reforms of all types in rural areas in a State that has in the past experienced a tailspin is necessary, the fight against nepotism and endemic corruption in the system Governor Bindow has inherited should also keep pace with the current physical development in the State.
Again, it is disappointing to learn that the white paper on recommendations of the Local Government Staff Verification Committee in the state, submitted to the Adamawa State House of Assembly is about to become a victim of partisan analysis. This is why my heart bleeds for the Land of Beauty!
In the meantime, concerned citizens like me in addition to remaining faithful to core principles and respect for elected leaders and constituted authority, will never stop trying to find a way to encourage elected or appointed representatives as well as institutions to work for the good of the State. That’s the definition of democracy, which so many others have forgotten.
On that account, we urge Governor Bindow and the Adamawa State House of Assembly Verification Ah-hoc Committee currently conducting sittings on the Maurice Vunobolki report to be mindful that a great number of concerned citizens of Adamawa polity both at home and in the Diaspora are poised to ensure that their efforts in defending proletariats from sleazy pilferers are not thwarted.