The existence of ghost workers in the public service, who the government accuses of embezzling billions of shillings every year, is a problem that has refused to go away, despite major efforts to root it out.
Over the years the government has strived to contain the problem, mainly focusing on manpower audits to catch any ghosts that might be hidden in payroll accounts of public offices by dishonest officials.
Sadly the problem has persisted, providing loopholes for embezzlers to continue siphoning billions of shillings from the public coffers.
Early last year the minister in-charge of public service management, Hawa Ghasia told President Kikwete that the government had lost about 9bn/- through payments to ghost workers in various government ministries and departments between 2007 and 2009.
The names of ghost workers were uncovered in the ministries of health, education and constitutional affairs and justice.
To show his impatience at the slow pace of curbing the scam which was milking the public coffers of billions of shillings, the president directed the ministry to employ fast-track techniques to rescue billions of taxpayers’ money.
Apparently the problem has persisted, going by the directive issued to all civil servants at the end of last year to report to their respective duty stations and collect cheques for their January 2012 salaries in person.
The departure from the system under which salaries were posted to the bank accounts of employees was apparently adopted to close one of the potential loopholes of embezzling money through accounts of non-existent or colluding employees.
It is not yet clear how successful the exercise of paying through the window was in trapping ghost workers and saving money.
It seems the problem is more widespread and may be milking more public cash than we may be aware of.
One other public institution that has apparently sniffed the existence of a racket that might cause it to lose millions or even billions of shillings is the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).
The Fund’s Director General Emmanuel Humba said he has launched a countrywide crackdown after discovering that some people masquerading as members of the Fund have been getting free health services.
Humba said the move will be sustained within all hospitals and health centres in the country by thoroughly checking the list of members to recognise the ‘ghosts’ including retirees who continue to use their identity cards while they are no longer in service.
There is more to the problem than meets the eye. Its roots are to be found in failure to not only keep proper records in many public offices but to ensure they are up to date and impervious to any manipulation by dishonest employees.
That the name of an employee who has retired, been terminated transferred or changed jobs continues to feature on the payroll of an institution without raising eyebrows, is indicative of lack of respect for proper record keeping.
The expectation is that the coming of the smart National Identity cards will greatly reduce the problem. But until then and indeed even after, proper record keeping can save billions of shillings from the ghost workers.