Withholding workers’ salaries won’t solve any problem

Wed, 7 Jan 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

This “ghost names” problem: Withholding workers’ salaries won’t solve any problem

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Folks, the Controller and Accountant-General's Department is warning workers that if they don't update information on their employment status by a deadline to be given, their salaries will be withheld. According to the Department, the directive is in response to the problem being caused by the huge wage bill that is weighing heavily on the government's management of public funds.

Once again, a directive has been given, aimed at the wrong target. Workers don't employ themselves nor do they impose themselves on institutions in the public sector. They are employed after going through laid-down procedures, meaning that records on their employment status should be available and that anybody not in active service should be known. That is if the proper steps are being taken by the management of the various institutions.

The payment of wages/salaries to ghost workers can't be traced to the so-called "ghost workers" but those managing affairs in the various institutions. Withholding workers' salaries will spell more doom. Once again, a misplaced priority in-the-offing to embarrass the government!!

For those of you who haven't been to MyJoyOnline's Web site to read the news report, here is the link for you to follow: http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/January-4th/no-ssnit-no-pay-accountant-generals-dept-to-public-workers.php#sthash.hJp0wGf0.dpuf).

Let us be honest upfront to commend the SSNIT Management for attempting to be "proactive" in this effort to streamline employment status and validate the social security regime so that those who genuinely contribute to the Trust can be properly identified and rewarded at the end of their service. I appreciate this initiative and welcome it, even if I have some qualms about the nitty-gritty regarding what has been going to date and why I consider this directive as skewed.

Every country that seeks the welfare of its workers ensures that the post-office (retirement) situation for those workers is assured through stringent and beneficial social security arrangements. Workers in active service have a future to look to in retirement, which is why social security is imperative.

In sacrificing their lot, the workers have the hope that part of their earnings being slashed off on pay-day will be conserved in the Social Security Trust (Fund) for them to reap the fruit when they retire. It means that they are securing their future with such contributions, which is why they must be the first to defend whatever they contribute periodically. That is why the role of the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in securing the future of workers is important; and that is why one expects the TUC to liaise with the authorities on that score so proper management is done and workers' contributions saved and not run down the drainage under any guise. Are the TUC leaders really doing so or simply politicizing issues and pitting themselves against the party in power that they don't like (which invariably will detract from their own worth as workers' leaders)?

I consider the directive as inadequate for other reasons. The onus of validating employment status doesn't lie—and shouldn't be pushed onto—workers unless enough paper work is available to help the workers update information on their status. Those in charge of the public sector (the various institutions supported by the Consolidated Fund) should be responsible for this exercise.

In other words, the workers didn't employ themselves. They went through the hoop to be what they are and those responsible for recruiting them should be the first to help identify who is genuinely in service and must be retained or disposed of. What I am saying is that Management should play the frontline role.

Withholding workers' wage/salary as threatened won't solve the problem; it will worsen it. Those in charge of "paperwork" may themselves be perpetrators of this "ghost names" problem and will quickly outsmart the authorities by frustrating this updating of information exercise so workers not paid would see the government as the cause of their woes. The matter could easily assume a different complexion and be politicized to the government's disadvantage.

On a broader scale, though, there should be a serious effort to monitor how this "head-count" thing is done, apparently because the problem of "ghost names" cannot be said to be limited to the specific workplaces alone. The Controller and Accountant-General's Department is itself complicit in the stealing of public funds through payment of salaries and wages to ghost workers. Over the years, syndicates operating therein have been exposed. What is in place for the Controller and Accountant-General's Department itself to rid itself of ghost names and to stamp out those perpetrating the payment of salaries and wages to g host workers elsewhere in the public sector?

Government's persistent cry over huge wage bills through such fraudulent payments should be stopped now and action taken to rigidly enforce measures. For far too long, our various governments have done politics with this issue of ghost workers without doing anything concrete to solve the problem. Is it because even within government circles there are some criminal elements connected to this ghost payment syndrome? I won't rule it out, knowing very well how unconscionable some walking the corridors of power can be in their search for financial gains from the system.

I want the Controller and Accountant-General's Department to know that it cannot succeed in ridding the system of crooks cashing in on this ghost worker syndrome without any blueprint to be fashioned out with the government. From the news report, I see this Department as trying to go it alone, which will make its move a non-starter.

The government must be responsible for anything involving social security. That is why it is important for a national identification mechanism so every Ghanaian will have a specific unchangeable social security number for life!!!

The management of SSNIT itself should be poked in the ribs so it does the right thing instead of scheming and putting in place strategies to live fat on workers' contributions. Let someone take a good look at the conditions of service for those people. Why should they enjoy the fruit of what they haven't sown while the sowers themselves languish in excruciating poverty? Only in a sick country!!

In the United States, for example, everything revolves around "social security number". No one without it can do anything within the public sector, especially where funds are involved. If you doubt it, find out from many why they do all they can to weave their way through so they can be recognized on the basis of “social security number”.

In our part of the world, we have become so satisfied with our conditions of wretchedness and mediocrity that we only take a keen delight in complaining about problems and not doing anything to solve them. Countries don't develop this way.

I want to encourage the authorities to work together so this social security issue can be tackled to prove to workers that their contributions will be stored and invested to yield profits for their good when they retire. Otherwise, all this noise from the Controller and Accountant-General's Department will remain what it is—an irritating noise!!

Why are public officials so lazy? Who is in charge of what? I strongly suspect that some in positions of trust as far as the disbursement of public funds is concerned are themselves in collusion with the miscreants manipulating the system and paying ghost workers. Let the Accountant-General's Department set the pace.

If it cannot, then, let the government engage the services of qualified technocrats to create a data base for public sector workers to be managed efficiently as a way of weeding out ghost names.

Parliament has step in to enact a law on social security numbers for the entire country and the law enforcement agencies empowered to enforce such laws. Those who attempt to manipulate the system must be quickly identified and punished. I am more than convinced that if a proper database system is created to oversee efforts, no one can manipulate the system to give us hiccups. The institutions of state must join hands to solve this problem. How can ghost workers exist in such institutions if no one in authority there creates room for them?

Finally, there must be some serious regulatory measures on employment into the public sector. The irresistible urge to employ people into the public sector (in our time, mostly because of political connections or other considerations bordering on frivolity—relatives of girlfriends, “old boyism”, political activism, “errand boyism” must be curbed. We recall Rawlings’ retrenchment and redeployment exercises and wonder why the governments after Rawlings won’t take any cue from what forced him to go that way. There is too much rot in our public sector when it comes to employment, which explains why there is so much for the government to worry about in terms of the huge wage bill. Unarguably, we aren’t getting value for our money as far as the public sector employment situation is concerned. That is why the government is crying itself hoarse. Infinitesimal productivity, zero dividends. More woes for Ghana!!

The government must demonstrate more commitment than it has done so far if it wants to solve the problems that payment of high wage bills continue to cause. In this age of the Internet and advanced data storage mechanisms, why should it be difficult to create a genuine data base of public sector workers so that only those in service will be paid?

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.