GOVERNMENT’S politically-motivated reluctance to address the issue of ghost workers on the payroll exposed by an extensive audit four years ago has returned to haunt it as its wage bill has become unsustainable with Treasury increasingly battling to pay civil servants and pensioners.
More than 75 000 ghost workers, mostly unqualified Zanu PF militias and supporters, were unearthed in the civil service through a comprehensive payroll and skills audit done by Ernst & Young (India) on behalf of the Public Service ministry in 2011.
The ghost workers included 6 861 employed in one day in a single ministry.
The deteriorating economic outlook has finally spurred government into action with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa indicating in his mid-term fiscal policy review statement last week an intention to cut the wage bill from more than 80% to less than 40% of government revenues.
There seemed a clear indication by government to retrench and weed out ghost workers before Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira quashed such expectations calling them “laughable”.
She said the wage bill will be cut through various means other than the dismissal of any of its more than 550 000 civil servants.
Government however carried out an audit — in the form of a manual head count — in April this year to inform the trimming of the civil service by weeding out ghost workers. However, this appears to have had unintended consequences as it resulted in at least 3 000 teachers failing to access their July salaries as they were absent during the counting exercise for various reasons.
Most of the teachers were on leave while others had travelled in consultation with their superiors.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo said government should not target the wrong people in its attempt to slash the wage bill.
“These ghost workers are well known,” Moyo said.
“Government cannot target genuine employees who have gone on study leave or maternity leave, which is very unfair.
Most of the ghost workers are youths who are roaming in the rural areas.”
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze said government needs to get an independent auditor to identify ghost workers to avoid fuelling mistrust and suspicion of witch-hunts.
“There is need to get an independent body to do it (audit) because government is conflicted,” Kanyenze said. “This will ensure justice and fairness in an environment characterised by mistrust.”
He said government should sit down with other stakeholders to ensure their buy-in and avoid misinterpretations of the objectives of the exercise.