THE government will soon act on ghost workers that are burdening the civil service wage bill, the Ministry of Public Service has said.
However, the government only know the number of ghost workers burdening its already strained finances after an analysis of the information that is being collated through the ongoing biometric and Public Service payroll census.
The biometric and payroll census, which is being conducted by the ministry of Public Service, started in Maseru, Berea, Mafeteng, Leribe and Mohale’s Hoek in July this year. It is currently ongoing in the remaining districts of Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, Quthing, Qacha’s Nek and Butha Buthe.
By the 9th of this month, 38 302 civil servants out of the 50 237 on the government’s payroll had been counted along with 2071 of the 3126 pensioners.
Ministry of Public Service assistant public relations officer, Mamakhoa Molapo, recently told the Lesotho Times that it was still early to tell how many of the already counted civil servants are ghost workers.
“Currently we are just counting those who bring forth the national identification documents (IDs) and qualifications as requested and those without IDs have been excluded,” Ms Molapo said.
“Other groups of civil servants who have not been counted in the areas we have already been to include those that are on different forms of leave. When the process ends this month-end, we will further give those who were not counted an opportunity to bring forth their documents for verification. Failure to do so, we will stop their salary payments and if one still does not appear, we will consider such a person a ghost worker.
“Furthermore, we will also sit down with the relevant ministries to analyse the collected data, mostly verifying if the unfound persons are really ghost workers. It is only after that when we can tell how many ghost workers we discovered.”
Ms Molapo said after the analysis of the information, they will then engage the police and hand over the information about the ghost workers to them.
“We will then hand over the information to the police to follow up on those unaccounted for. It will be an easy process to find people who have been receiving salaries illegally through their bank accounts and then they will face prosecutions,” she said.
Earlier this year, the government contracted a United Kingdom human resource company, Charlie Goldsmith Associates to engage in a four months programme to verify the public service wage bill and further assess the qualifications of the civil servants.
The census is being undertaken under the Public Sector Modernization Project funded by the World Bank to the tune of USD 1, 5 million (about M20.8 million).
Charlie Goldsmith Associates has since July this year been head counting all public officers and civil pensioners as well as identifying anomalies on the payroll. Preparatory work started in 2016 from which the census framework and communication strategies were developed.
While launching the process in July, the minister of Public Service, Joang Molapo, said the cabinet decided to engage in the study due to the worrying rate of “ghosts” who were being paid illegally by the government hence the high wage bill.
“The government has for a long time lamented the high rate of non-existent workers who are being paid.
“Some are either dead and still getting paid while some are registered multiple times under different identities. The objective is to extract a reputable image of the public service therefore, every person on the government payroll, including pensioners and chiefs, will be head-counted.
“Those who are found guilty of this fraud will face criminal charges. The United Kingdom company was contracted through an open tender and it won based on its merits. World Bank funded projects do not consider the origin of one as long as they are assured that they will deliver. Lesotho companies have worked in other countries as well under World Bank.
“The government also rests assured that the company which will be working with two local consultants, will deliver a sterling job. They also said that four months will be enough as they have done this kind of job before in other countries and already have an estimate of the number of people they expect to be on the government payroll,” Mr Molapo said in July.
The government has since June this year been in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a financial bailout to boost its foreign currency reserves, a request which the Bretton Woods Institution turned down owing to Lesotho’s huge civil service wage bill.
After the IMF’s engagement with the Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro and other government representatives from 23 August to 5 September this year, the institution predicated the granting of a bailout package on the government’s ability to craft and implement prudent policy measures.
“Significant progress was made during the visit and discussions will continue in the coming weeks. If agreement is reached on policy measures…an arrangement to support Lesotho’s economic programme could be proposed for the IMF Executive Board’s consideration,” the IMF said last month.
The IMF-prescribed policy measures are expected to result in among other things, the reduction of Lesotho’s huge public wage bill, described by the IMF as “one of the largest in the world compared to the size of the economy”.
The IMF has also demanded that the government embarks on cost-cutting initiatives that will enable savings from the reduction on trips by government officials as well as reforms to ensure efficient public finance management.
In 2014, the government’s wage bill was said to be 23 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the highest in the region.