Abia ‘Arm-twisted’ to Pay Ghost Workers’ in LGs, Says Commissioner

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Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia

Abia State Government has said that the current salary burden of the 17 local governments was no longer sustainable as government was being “arm twisted” to keep paying salaries of the over bloated workforce including ghost workers.

Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon Christopher Enweremadu raised the alarm yesterday at a press conference, saying that the local government system was in dire need of sanitisation to get it working.

“We are compelled to use over 80 percent of local government funds for salaries because of the staffing irregularities,” he said, adding that biometric staff auditing had commenced to determine the genuine workers in of the local government system.
According to him, Abia presently has over 40,000 workers in its pay roll and a huge number of the workers don’t even know the name of the council headquarters from where they draw their salaries every month.

“It is immoral to use funds meant for genuine workers to pay ghost workers,” he said, adding that those involved in collecting salaries for non-existing workers were committing criminal offence and would not be spared when caught.

To buttress the level of fraud in the local government system of Abia, the commissioner cited Isiala Ngwa North council where it had been discovered that between N55 million and N60 million was expended monthly on salaries of 1,500 workers.
He said that government had strived to clear the backlog of salaries in the local government including primary school teachers, adding that by December ending the council workers would only have one month outstanding salary arrears.

The former Abia State House of Assembly Speaker, who had been a council boss, acknowledged the issue of ghost workers has become a vicious cycle in the local government system as every measure adopted to exorcise the ghosts has never yielded the desired result.
He therefore stated that government needed to summon the political will to break the cycle of ghost worker syndrome which was compounded by the fact that “local government staffing was used as unemployment benefit
scheme”.

Enweremadu said that a syndicate in the local government system has exploited the irregularities in the employment procedure to engage in manner of fraud thereby sustaining the existence of ghost workers and the attendant huge wage bill.

“There is a cabal in local governments engaged in employing, posting, promoting and awarding arbitrary salaries to workers,’ he lamented, adding that government was determined to put the fraudsters out of business.

The commissioner noted that due to the politicisation of the local government staffing and issue of salary payment the state government has been forced to keep paying the unsustainable wage bill without concern about workers’ productivity.