The outcry over the menace of ghost worker fraud reverberated in the Senate yesterday when the finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, threw a bombshell by revealing that, with the help of the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) policy, it has been discovered that one civil servant alone collected 20 salaries every month.
She also told the Senate Committee on Finance that the 23,000 ghost workers discovered in the Federal Civil Service would be handed over to EFCC for prosecution.
The adoption of BVN in processing salary payments by the federal government had stunningly thrown up no fewer than 23,000 ghost names on its payroll, a development that raised concerns about the huge amount of monies that may have been stolen from the nation’s coffers through such leakages in the federal civil service.
“What the IPPIS-BVN registration has shown us has been a real revelation. We have identified that there are people who appear on our payroll multiple times. BVN links all the accounts of that person, so we are seeing in our payroll 20 names to one BVN number,” Adeosun said during a budget defence session by the Federal Ministry of Finance before the committee.
The awestruck Senate committee agreed with the minister and directed that the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, begin the prosecution and sanctioning of all individuals, firms and banks that aided the inclusion of the 23,000 ghost workers on federal government’s payroll.
With the help of the ongoing verification of the Niger State workforce, a messenger at the state’s ministry of finance earned N265,000 monthly and a cleaner at General Hospital, Minna, earned N375,000 monthly, while no fewer than three permanent secretaries in the state’s civil service earned over N1.3 million monthly.
The ghost worker syndrome had been a trend which has sapped public funds since the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo up to the immediate past administration when former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala held sway in the ministry.
In October 2014, the federal government uncovered a total of 60,000 ghost workers in federal establishments across the country, following the staff audit of the federal government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) on the implementation of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
Yesterday, Senate’s directive that the AGF, Malami, and the finance minister fastback action in prosecuting firms, banks and individuals linked to the 23,000 ghost worker scam was issued by the chairman, Committee on Finance, Senator John Enoh.
Enoh asked Mrs Adeosun to make sure that her ministry recovers all funds fraudulently received through the ghost workers’ accounts.
During her presentation, the minister lamented that the ghost worker scam had exposed the nation’s revenue system to very serious financial leakages.
She assured the Senate committee that the 23,000 ghost workers discovered in the Federal Civil Service would be handed over to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), even as she added that banks and firms that connived with civil servants to pad the federal government payroll would also be prosecuted.
Adeosun said, “We have had a meeting on how we are going to clean them off. The process will be that we will suspend that person from the payroll pending the end of the investigation. As we speak now, we have about 23,000 that we need to investigate: those whom either the BVN is linked to multiple payments or the name on the BVN account is not consistent with the name on our own payroll.
“If we are able to get everybody onto the BVN platform, we will be able to save a considerable amount of personnel cost. Not only will we remove those people from our payroll, but we will also be going after the banks involved to collect our money.
“So, some of the information that we are getting is how long has this person been on the pay roll, how much has he been getting.
In some getting the accounts are held by the same bank and in some cases all were opened on the same day. If we are able to prove that banks have colluded with people to pad our payroll, we are not only going to stop those payments but we are also going to try and recover our money”.
On what becomes the fate of defaulting MDAs, the minister said, “My job is to get them off our payroll; what happens from there on goes to the investigative
agencies. We will pass our files onto them and they will take a decision as to what sanctions they will take.
“Mine is that I do not want to pay them anymore, and whatever they have taken must come back; so we are going to hand our files on to EFCC and the relevant agencies.”
She explained to the committee how the use of the BVN policy helped the IPPIS in tracking down the ghost worker scam.
Adeosun said, “The IPPIS programme, funded by World Bank, started about five years ago and what it required was for every officer to come physically for biometric data capture. Over the five years, unfortunately, we have only been able to capture about 295,000 federal civil servants, which represent less than 20 per cent of the total personnel on the federal par roll.
“We realized that if we can get more people on IPPIS, our salary costs will come down and so we needed to get more people on IPPIS. So I looked critically at it with the director of IPPIS, and we decided to change the strategy; rather than getting the person to come physically – which has always been the problem, we will take the payroll that we have and the bank account of everybody who is being paid.
“So, from that bank account we will get the BVN; from the BVN we can get the biometric data, so that considerably accelerated the process of getting people onto IPPIS. I can tell you that within the last two months we have been on this programme, we have been able to enrol 320,000 onto IPPIS using BVN; that is, compared to 295,000 in five years.
“We are very confident with our programme, that we will now be able to get every federally paid civil servant onto IPPIS by June. We are aggressively chasing after June.”
When asked by the committee about the controversy that trailed the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the minister stated that it was not proper for the company managing the transfer to the TSA to have charged MDAs.
Noting that the firm should have been paid a reasonable amount by a central agency of government, she said, “The N25 billion that was allegedly paid out was actually incorrect; it was about N8 billion that was paid and it has been refunded because there was no basis for the deduction.
Reps To Probe N7bn Vice President’s Official Residence
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has resolved to investigate the N7 billion contract for the building of Vice President’s official residence.
The committee headed by Hon. Herman Hembe took the decision after undertaking an oversight visit to the project site in Abuja’s Three-Arms zone yesterday.
The committee members observed that after the payment of N6.215bn to Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd, which is handling the project, the claim that the work had reached 88 per cent completion was untrue.
The committee observed that the work done was actually less than 50 per cent, with an outstanding balance of N850m out of the total N7bn contract sum.
Members expressed concern that at a time when some contractors were paid less than N50 per cent as mobilisation fee, Julius Berger was paid 88 per cent, yet it abandoned the project.
Addressing journalists at the site, chairman of the committee, Hembe, said they would set up a sub-committee to probe the project with a view to ensuring that Nigerians get value for their money.
Explaining the breakdown of the project, Hembe said the VP’s Aide De Camp’s (ADC’s) house was contracted for N258m; Chief Security Officer’s house was for N228m; a church building at N84m while a mosque at N95m; security quarters at 114m; Boys Quarters at N288m; gate house for N55m; and infrastructure at N1.7bn, among other features of the residence.
For his part, acting director of the Public Building Department of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Arc Ikenna Ekeledo, said the amount paid included finishing materials, most of which were yet to be supplied.
He said the construction firm had done some other works outside the initial agreed contract cost, which would gulp an additional N1bn.
However, the committee said it would not appropriate any amount for the project until Julius Berger completes the project in the first place.