Auditors expose 9,800 ghost workers in government departments

The Audit of government payroll by the Office of the Auditor General of Zambia released this week reveals a series of serious misappropriations of public funds, including the fact that in 2017-2021 ministries paid over $45 million in salaries regular to 9,800 seemingly non-existent people.

The revelations in Lusaka come amid a deep economic downturn, which is straining Zambia’s public finances. (Photo: Rik Dekker, Wikimedia, Licence)“As of July 31, the establishments had not reported on the agents in the sense that they were not known”, specifies the audit.

“These are names on a payroll that for one reason or another don’t exist,” Laura Miti, executive director of Alliance for Community Action, the Zambian public accountability NGO, told AFP. ‘OCCRP.

“They may be deceased, for example, or they may have just been put on the list,” she added, implying that the money ends up in the pockets of various people in the city. ‘establishment.

Among other cases of embezzlement, the auditors detected 87 individuals who diverted funds earmarked for the payment of salaries to private accounts outside the civil service.

Some civil servants have been paid for periods of up to 14 years despite being suspended. Others received excessive unauthorized allowances or, using different employee numbers, received double salaries.

“The abuse is monumental,” Miti said, indicating that this might just be the tip of the iceberg, as the audit only covers a random sample of government institutions.

The revelations come amid a deep recession, caused by years of economic mismanagement and excessive borrowing, later exacerbated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the crisis, the government was forced to adopt austerity measures, implementing huge cuts in public services. Between 2019 and 2021, social spending tear down by 21%.

“Payroll fraud is particularly significant in a country with such high levels of unemployment, critical staff shortages and a budget shortfall on all service delivery,” Miti said.

President Hakainde Hichilema, who swept away who came to power last year, pledged to revive the country’s economy and wage a war against corruption.

However, subsequent anti-corruption investigations, targeting many senior former government officials, have drawn criticism for his political motives.

“The main test will be whether current and ongoing corruption will be investigated and punished with as much passion as retrospective corruption,” Miti said.

Ashley C. Reynolds