Fighting Ghost Names: Auditor General is Creating Panic and Unnecessary Stress Among Public Sector Workers in Ghana
By Philip Afeti Korto, Head of Administration and Support Services, Achimota Hospital, Accra
The issue of ghost names or names of faceless workers on the public sector payroll has been on the discussion table for years and it has been a matter of concern as it depletes the public purse unethically and Unnecessarily to the detriment of developmental efforts.
As such, every progressive thinking Ghanaian must support the fight against ghost names on the public sector payroll and I support it unhesitatingly mindful of its devastating ramifications for the economy.
However, I disagree with the knee-jerk and rather panic creating approach the Auditor General and for that matter the Ghana Audit Service is using to clean the payroll. In any meaningful and result - oriented bid to solve a problem, the chosen panacea must be effectively directed at the causative factors germane to the problem because the choice of any cosmetic antidotes will just have the surface of the problem bleached and not solved.
Recently, the Auditor General audited or validated the salary payment vouchers of various Budget and Management Centers (BMCs) across the nation. The exercise was started at a short notice and its duration was equally not long enough to enable all the public sector workers participate in it. A mop up exercise followed but still people were left out, especially those on leave and travelled outside the Ghanaian Jurisdiction.
Aftermath of the Exercise
The aftermath of the payroll audit exercise as announced by the Auditor General is that quite a huge number of people on the payroll are faceless workers or in the normal phraseology, they are ghosts. In the health sector alone, the Auditor General has penned down over 28,000 names as ghosts. The Chief Director of Ministry of Health has therefore initiated a verification exercise to authenticate the 28,414 names within four (4) days i.e. from 25th -28th March, 2019 and from 8AM to 3PM each day. Per instructions of the Chief Director of the MOH, affected workers of four (4) regions, namely Greater Accra, Eastern, Volta and Oti must converge at the MOH Treasury /Internal Audit Unit for the exercise. Such an important exercise meant to clean the so called congested public sector payroll is being done in a haste under the compulsive directives of the Ghana Audit Service.
It must be further reiterated that the exercise is meant to enable the affected workers to appear and justify that their names are not ghost names. As noted earlier, this exercise is also being done at a short notice and with speed and may still leave out genuine public sector workers and this may lead to unnecessary deletion of their names from the payroll. Should this happen, it will not only be demotivating for the workers but may also lead to payment of judgment debts by government because administrative decisions and actions are not beyond the review by the courts since the judiciary frowns on ouster clauses.
Negative Impact on Productivity and Inhumane Treatment to Workers
The irony of this final verification by the MOH at the behest of the Ghana Audit Service is that numerous workers have left their work places and queued at the MOH Treasury/Internal Audit Unit at the Ministries, waiting to be counted and this for sure has negative impact on productivity. That aside, the workers are being subjected to inhumane and stressful treatment at the MOH Treasury as they are not provided with seats to sit and wait, the process is slow and the long and meandering queues compel some of the workers to either keep wake at the exercise venue or go there as early as 3am to queue. This is 5 hours before the start of the exercise each day at 8AM. These workers are doctors, nurses, pharmacists and support staff who are supposed to be on duty and be saving lives. Some are on night duty hence from work, they go and queue and return for night duty without going home. It is in view of the foregoing that I think the Auditor General should have approached the problem more gradually and at BMC levels since the Audit Service has branches throughout the country and can do even monthly payroll audits.
The Paradox of the Head Count
It is rather paradoxical to observe that a significant number of the over 28,000 health workers listed as ghosts are people who have either resigned, retired, vacated post or died years ago and their salaries were stopped so one wonders how they are still ghosts on the payroll. The salaries of those separated employees were actually deleted or blocked by the Controller and Accountant-General's Department, the Civil Service Organization that pays salaries to public sector workers. The question that remains unanswered is that if the Ghana Audit Service is working in unison with the CAGD, couldn't the appearance of the names of separated staff on the list of the over 28000 affected workers be avoided? Or it is just an intention to create panic or the exercise was not properly done? Something must definitely be wrong somewhere and innocent and hardworking employees are just suffering the consequences unduly. It would be recalled that a similar exercise was done some years ago and the name of Dr. Elias Sory, the then Director General of Ghana Health Service was treated as a ghost and his salary was blocked. He wrote a letter before his salary was restored and this was published in the media. If such a high profiled officer in the health sector could be treated as a ghost, then why won't other junior ranking workers in the health sector not equally be treated as ghosts. Are we crying wolf in the absence of a wolf? In any case, a ghost on the payroll without salary must just be removed without any scintilla of panic as we are seeing now.
The Auditor General should rescind his decision of rushing with this very important exercise so that we do not delete genuine workers' names mistakenly from the payroll. Such an occurrence can lead to legal action and families will also go through economic hardships.
The Ghana Audit Service has branches throughout the country so payrolls of BMCs should be audited monthly or quarterly and not once in a while so as to forestall this gatecrash approach of doing things.
The Audit Service should work closely with BMC Heads and the CAGD in cleaning the payroll.
The Audit Service should be interested in the electronic salary payment voucher the CAGD uses to pay salaries every month so as to recommend ways of improving on the effectiveness of the software to eventually clean the payroll.
In any attempt to audit the payroll, workers must not be subjected to stressful conditions and fear of losing their jobs. The current exercise is being done with tight deadlines as if we are aware the world is coming to an end the following day. It will be unfair to delete names from the payroll even when the people are working or are pursuing courses using study leave with pay.
It is my ardent hope that this article will reach the attention of the Audit Service and perhaps the Speaker of Parliament to ensure that due diligence is done not to remove workers' names from the payroll without a just cause. Parliamentarians are representatives of the people so they should have an intervening say in addressing the problem. The Trade Union Congress and the Health Services Workers' Union as well as other professional associations in the health sector should equally not stand aloof while workers are treated unfairly and inhumanely on the altar of cleaning the public sector payroll.