…As taxi drivers masquerade as teachers
…Govt launches payroll audit
By Marianne Nghidengwa and Patience Nyangove
SEVERAL Kunene taxi drivers are part of a well organised, illicit syndicate that has been fleecing Government of millions of dollars monthly as ghost teachers are paid on average of N$15 000 monthly each in salaries, Confidente can reveal.
So desperate has the situation become that the Ministry of Education last month requested for assistance from the Ministry of Finance to embark on a countrywide manual payroll audit and verification exercise at all public schools to establish the extent of the scam which has resulted in Government forking out around N$9.6 billion for teachers’ salaries annually.
In 2015, an assessment by the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) revealed that the education ministry was paying full salaries to about 6 000 ghost teachers. After the re-grading exercise carried out by the public service, a teacher with a degree earns about N$17 000 a month – a rate which meant that Government could be losing more than N$100 million every month through ghost teachers’ salaries.
The Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, Tuesday confirmed the launching of a nationwide audit to unmask the ghost workers. “Yes there is an audit. Please call the PS.”
The ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Sanet Steenkamp, said the move was a strategic executive decision introduced in the country’s 14 education regional directorates to understand the magnitude of over expenditure in terms of salaries.
“We requested the respective directorates to appoint a team of accountants, human resource practitioners and school inspectors to carry out the audit exercise and determine what salary goes to who. We are doing a head count of teachers at all our schools who will be expected to identify themselves with their identity documents and pays lips. Whoever is not counted will be removed from the system. We have even instructed for those that are sick to report at certain points just to identify themselves because we need an in-depth understanding of the problem and how we can move forward. “For the exercise we are using the October payroll to assess the extent of the problem of how as a ministry we somehow overspend for salaries although we had a set budget. We also want to establish how long the problem has been going on and for that we sought the help of the Ministry of Finance to help us with the internal payroll audit,” she said.
Minister of Finance, Calle Schlettwein, Tuesday revealed that 80 percent of the education ministry’s N$12, 7 billion 2016/2017 budget was now going towards teachers’ salaries alone. “We are now doing an exercise moving around schools to try and establish the discrepancies. We are going manually to the schools. Every employee must be accounted for, that’s why we are doing a payroll audit of who is there and who is not. Eighty percent of the Ministry of Education’s budget is now going towards salaries alone. It’s the largest expense of Government and their payroll has shown discrepancies,” Schlettwein.
Confidente is reliably informed that the unearthing of the ghost teachers has prompted the Kunene Education Directorate to launch an investigation into the matter after preliminary findings revealed that they were at least 20 ghost workers in its system. A large number of the ghost workers are said to be taxi drivers and ordinary people who work in cahoots with officials within the directorate and share the salaries once paid.
“It was a shock when the story surfaced. That taxi driver trying to get a loan opened a can of worms because it exposed how serious the matter is. It’s a delicate issue right now because all of a sudden everyone is distancing themselves and those that are investigating also don’t want to do so because senior people within the directorate are also implicated,” the sources said.
The sources added that the anomaly was recently detected when one of the ghost employees tried to get a loan from offices of a parastatal (known to Confidente) in Otjiwarongo claiming he was an employee of the directorate. Upon verification, officials of the parastatal discovered that the employee was not employed at the directorate. It turned out the employee was a taxi driver in Khorixas who like many other ghost employees are fraudulently gobbling Government funds. Confidente is also informed that the taxi drivers and other people who are illegally on the Government payroll are either relatives or friends of Government administrators who connived to defraud Government and share the proceeds. The sources further said that officials of the directorate have been committing fraud and should equally be charged for the loss to Government.
The matter is said to be sensitive to an extent that those responsible for the investigation are facing difficulties as some high-ups of the directorate are said to be involved.
In fact sources add that an HR official in Kunene (name know to Confidente) resigned from her position last year after it was detected she facilitated the process. Her husband at the time was said to be on Government payroll as a ghost principal.
Contacted for comment, Kunene HR chief officer Kaino Itewa -who is said to be responsible for the investigation- denied looking into the matter but said that the directorate is busy conducting payroll verifications.
“I do not know what you are talking about, I was not in office until today (Tuesday). I only hear that there is payroll verifications being done,” Itewa retorted.
Apart from Kunene, Confidente is also informed that Kavango East has a high number of suspected ghost teachers. Steenkamp said that an education official in Kavango East has been defrauding the ministry adding that the audit will establish how many others have been doing so. Last year, Hanse-Himarwa said that the issue of ghost teachers posed a big challenge for the ministry. She said ghost teachers would remain a problem for as long as there were unqualified teachers who have to re-apply each year for renewal of their appointments, creating loopholes in the system.Perhaps the biggest case and its prosecution was in 2011, when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested eight Ministry of Education officials for their alleged part in a ghost teacher scam that cost Government hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid salaries. The eight suspects at the time made a night-time appearance before Magistrate Ruth Herunga in the Windhoek Magistrates Court. They were granted bail in amounts varying between N$8 000 and N$40 000. Charges against seven people were however withdrawn after the prosecutor general decided not to continue with the prosecution. The decision was reached after one of the accused admitted guilt to 16 charges of theft and two counts of fraud.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015