Halting illegal recruitment, payroll crime — The PUNCH Editorial

Posted by News Express | 12 April 2022 | 290 times

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•Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan


The admission by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, that over 1,500 workers illegally joined the service with fake appointment letters in the last one year has again illustrated the vacuity of the anti-graft posture of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). It also confirms the regime’s failure to reform the bloated and corrupt federal bureaucracy after seven years in office.

The revelation that those in charge of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System – a major plank of the Federal Government’s civil service reform programme – tamper with the payment platform, calls for swift deterrence.

The HoS, in her keynote address at the ‘National Policy Dialogue on Entrenching Transparency in Public Office Recruitment in Nigeria,’ organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, in Abuja, said over 1,000 culprits were discovered in one ministry, while 500 others were found in other ministries, departments and agencies during a service-wide verification exercise.

More alarming was her revelation that the IPPIS had been infiltrated by a criminal gang which had compromised the platform and was siphoning public funds through “ghost workers.” Paradoxically, the payment platform was introduced in April 2007 to provide a reliable and comprehensive database for the public service; facilitate manpower planning; eliminate record and payroll frauds; facilitate easy storage, update and retrieve personnel records for administrative and pension processes, and facilitate staff remuneration payment with minimal waste and leakages. These noble objectives have obviously been sabotaged.

Corruption in a developing economy’s public service, says the World Bank, has a long-term negative effect on growth, investment and human development. The International Journal of Innovation and Research in Education adds; “Corruption is also likely to undermine a country’s regulatory framework and the efficiency of public institutions.” A joint study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the National Bureau of Statistics found pervasive corruption in Nigeria’s civil service manifesting in “ghost workers” and fraudulent contracts. These result in abysmal public service delivery, poor infrastructure, bad governance, poverty and general underdevelopment.

To stop corruption therefore, various reform measures have been rolled out. The implementation of the IPPIS, inspired by the World Bank, is designed to fight corruption through civil service professionalisation. The bank Biometric Verification Number and the Treasury Single Account are to complement IPPIS in checking ghost workers, payroll fraud and other public finance leakages. Regrettably, these digital platforms have failed to stop the leeches.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Minister of Finance, once revealed how the Federal Government blocked a N208.7 billion ghost workers scam in MDAs after a biometric collection exercise uncovered 62,893 fake names on the payroll.

In 2018, 80,115 “ghosts” were found on the Nigeria Police payroll by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, despite the IPPIS implementation. Curiously, the CBN’s ‘Know Your Customer’ directive to banks has not stopped them from opening accounts for criminals.

As of June 2016, it was reported that the Federal Government and 10 states lost over N538 billion to ghost workers. Out of this, Abuja paid N220 billion to 103,000 “ghosts” between September 2013 and May 2015. The other N318.3 billion was paid by Katsina, N30 billion; Kano, N17 billion; Rivers, N60 billion; Benue, N10.2 billion; Oyo, N18 billion; Abia, N26.5 billion; Adamawa, N20.4 billion; Akwa Ibom, N15 billion; Bayelsa, N120 billion and Ekiti, N1.2 billion.

Inexplicably, despite ample documentary evidence, especially from banks, very few of the identified beneficiaries of the payroll frauds have been prosecuted, or compelled to return the stolen funds or forfeit assets derived therefrom. This time, the anti-graft agencies should get cracking. Buhari should initiate a criminal investigation and hold senior civil servants whose complicity or carelessness allowed the illegal recruitment and payments responsible.

Curiously, despite the elimination of thousands of fake workers, the recurrent expenditure budget of the government continues to rise. Bolaji Owasanoye, the ICPC Chairman, said illegal recruitment into the civil service almost doubled the personnel budget from N1.83 trillion in 2015 to N3.49 trillion in 2022. The agency is currently investigating almost 100 petitions on recruitment scams.

The implementation of the TSA alongside other measures by the Buhari regime had raised hopes that ghost workers and other parasites in the system would be finally interred. But while e-governance, e-verification of payment and e-transfers, among others, have reduced certain sharp practices; payroll fraud has also gone digital. The perpetrators reportedly use fictitious names to operate bank accounts where the illicit salaries and allowances are stashed.

The syndicates are known to operate in the banks. Clearly, the symbiotic relationship between corrupt bank workers and the controllers of the salary process in the public service enables the aberration. The anti-graft agencies, the police and the Central Bank of Nigeria have been lax in monitoring and punishing the offenders.

Payroll fraud and illegal recruitment are criminal offences. The offenders should be identified, tracked down and prosecuted. Their collaborators within the bureaucracy should not be spared either.  Persistent failure to prosecute encourages the criminals. When in 2017, the government said IPPIs and BVN had helped to uncover 60,000 “ghosts” on the payroll, there was no follow-up arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. The managers on whose watch fraud of that magnitude was committed remained in the system.

For two years in succession, the previous administration claimed to have similarly discovered 60,000 and 50,000 “spirits” respectively but also failed to prosecute the perpetrators. But by 2022, about 627,000 officials had been punished for various offences in China’s long-running clampdown on corruption, said the country’s Communist Party. Nigeria’s corrupt officials should also not be spared.

To protect the IPPIS from further breaches, financial experts recommend improved deployment and upgrading of ICT tools and processes. There should be greater efficiency in supervision by managers. More importantly, trained forensic accountants should be hired by the MDAs to proactively prevent fraud.

Buhari should ensure that the masterminds of the illegal activities and complicit insiders are brought to justice.

Source: News Express

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