By NBF News
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WE are giving ghosts too much credit if we insist they are workers. We may be taking the applauds to bizarre ends if we, in addition, claim those eerie characters worked for the federal government. There are no figures about how much they earned during their frightening service since we are not sure in what grade levels they served and what entitlements those positions commanded.

Ghosts are rare. Arguments about their existence continue. For 43,000 of them to have found their way into the service of the federal government is alarming. They were probably waiting to be part of the minimum wage that has been so lengthily negotiated. On retirement, if they ever do, they will join the pensioners.

Mr. Olusegun Aganga, former Minister of Finance, said a scrutiny of staff of seven Ministries, Department Agencies, MDAs, saved the country over N12 billion in personnel costs which increased from N850 billion to N1.3 trillion between 2009 and 2010. There are 29 MDAs still unchecked.

The computerised pay system has been in the works for long. There have been series of resistance to its implementation. There would be no surprise if years after it is in use, new government uncover more ghost workers.

For months in 2001, the federal government withheld the pay of its workers. It said it was exorcising the system of ghost workers. They apparently did not go away or rejoined the service under other guises.

In 2008, at the peak of worsening power challenges, some consultants said the Power Holding Company of Nigeria had 14,885 ghost workers. The number was 40 per cent of PHCN work force of 35,000. Are some of those ghosts among the 43,000 or do we have 43,000 new ghosts?

Niger State has found 2,000 ghost workers in its 34,000 payroll. Other States would soon find their own ghost workers.

Little has changed. Little will change for as long as we refuse to call crime by its real name. We do not have ghost workers in the federal service, or the other places we claim to find them.

We have criminals who are working with syndicates that subvert every move to make accountability a standard in public life. How would N12 billion be lost in 11 MDAs (Aganga's figures) to criminals and nobody noticed? Where were the auditors in each of the MDAs?

Aganga did not do his work too. It was not enough to introduce a new pay system. He should have used the system to find the criminals and punish them. They are still around, working the weaknesses of the new system to their advantage.

Ghost workers' emoluments go into some people's accounts. They are not ghosts. They operate a well-organised crime that runs threads throughout the public service system, bloating it, burning records, and investing in efforts to keep the records antiquated and unverifiable.

The criminals who benefit from a system that wastes billions of Naira in payment to them are not likely to be unemployed soon. As governments tackle ghost workers, the criminals will find other ways of stealing from public funds. It is the responsibility of governments to stop them.

Many governments arguing they cannot pay the minimum wage may be right. They have not ascertained the number of their employees. They are treating public funds, in this regard, with the same flippancy with which they handle other matters that affect the public.

Governments encourage these ghostly criminals by refusing to punish them. Without punishing them, the number of criminals drawing pays for no work will continue to rise -it is a low risk crime, almost risk free.