These ghost workers were discovered, according to Ngama, in 215 ministries, departments and agencies under an Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).
It would seem that the ghosts are adept at beating all legitimate measures deployed to smoke them out; or it may be that the IPPIS is not particularly fortified to deter them.
At her last Monday’s briefing during the 2013 ministerial platform, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who is also coordinating minister for the Nigerian economy, was upbeat, praising the work that went into making the ‘discovery’ of the nearly 47,000 ghosts in 215 agencies of government possible.
Extrapolating from Ngama’s February figure, the ghosts as at Monday were raking in over 104 billion from the federal government purse.
The burden that this country carries in paying the so-called ghost workers is weighty enough for the responsible government officials to wake up to the fact that this is a joke gone too far.
The same IPPIS that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and Mr Ngama referred in their separate briefings has been in place for years now; if the number of ghosts keeps rising, not falling, in spite of the system, the investment and faith in it are misplaced.
If the IPPIS has not deterred ghosts from haunting the ministries and their agencies, and inserting themselves to be recognised on pay days, then it is left to the imagination what might be going on in the other 321 government departments that are yet to be equipped with the system. They may be swarming with ghosts too, possibly outnumbering bona fide civil servants.
What is clear is that there is high level of impunity going on in the administration of the federal payroll system. When the ghost worker phenomenon was discovered and measures taken to stem payroll haemorrhage, how many of the collaborating members of staff have been identified and disciplined? There is no record of that happening, and Mrs Okonjo-Iweala offered no clues.
The notion of ghost workers in government payrolls is not new, although it is of course nonsense.
The minister noted in her remarks: ‘The IPPIS enhances efficient personnel cost planning and budgeting as personnel cost will be based on actual verified numbers, and not estimates.’ She added that the ‘discovery’ of the ghost workers was part of the government’s reform measures aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of its resources.
The government has some way to go to exorcise such ghosts that are in fact its officials in blood and flesh who devise every means to help themselves to what they have not legitimately earned.
Where to begin is to re-examine the integrity of the IPPIS, and ensure that it is properly calibrated to do the task expected of it.
Government officials who should know when a staff member has retired, or is dismissed or dead must relay that information to appropriate personnel to be fed into the IPPIS to adjust the payroll accordingly. Where this is not done, the relevant officers need to explain. Stringent measures should be taken to punish those who sustain the ghost worker syndrome in the pay system.