The Malawi government is the latest African country to undertake a head count as it seeks to remove ghost workers from its payroll. Malawi follows countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon, as it seeks to root out waste and corruption in public finances.But civil servants complain that the requirements are excessive – referring to the demand that they submit original academic and professional certificates, letters of employment, identity cards, recent pay slips and bank statements, among other documents. Workers must present a police report if any documents were lost.
Servace Sakhala the President of Civil Servants Trade Union says the demands are unfair.
“No bank will give a statement for free. They range from K1,500 [$3] up to somewhere there,” said Sakhala. “We feel this is an unnecessary burden to a civil servant who is getting very low salary.”
The union has filed grievances to the Civil Service Reform Commission and told workers not to present documents.
“Those things have been discussed with relevant authorities,” noted Lawrence Chinkhuntha, spokesperson for the National Audit Office which is conducting the exercise. “But we know what we are doing. We cannot disclose exactly what has prompted us to do that but we know that it is very relevant for us to also crosscheck on bank statements.”
As for those who don’t comply, Chinkhuntha says “it will be up to the authorities to decide” at the end of the month-long exercise.
A recent government audit showed the problem of ghost workers to be widespread.
A similar exercise conducted by the Ministry of Education in the 1990’s led to thousands of fake teachers’ names being wiped from the payroll.
And I thought why is this issue coming up now?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the exercise of identifying Ghost workers. I know for a fact that in many African countries Ghost workers deprive the government of essential resources with which to run or develop the country, and any endeavours to end the practice are necessary. My problem is that it looks like the government is giving mixed messages. In that on one hand well-meaning audits such as these are being undertaken, whereas on the other the president is taking a huge entourage comprising 111 people to the UN in New York, including spending 4 million dollars on hiring a private jet for the president.
Wouldn’t it be responsible and make better sense if cost-saving was implemented across the board, and not only among low ranking civil servants?