The Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) says it believes the recent devolution of the public service payroll administration will reduce incidences of theft and fraud through ghost workers and double salary payments.
The 2015/16 audit of government accounts up to June 30 2016 revealed that ghost workers and manipulation of the wage bill in several ministries and departments contributed to the loss of K4.4 billion in 12 months.
In the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology alone, K119 million was lost to double salaries with one individual pocketing K3.7 million in fraudulently claimed salary and rural teacher allowances.
But the devolved payroll administration has put in place stages where such fraud would be detected before the information reaches the Accountant General, according to DHRMD public relations officer Rudo Kayira.
In the new system, human resource events such as new employees, deaths, resignations, leave grant applications and deductions are being done at the council level before a draft payroll is checked for errors by human resource officers in the sectors of health, agriculture and education, among others.
Kayira said when the final payroll is run, the changes made by the sector heads would have to be verified by the district commissioner before a funding request using the GP5A is made to the Accountant General through DHRMD headquarters in Lilongwe.
“The problem with fraud or ghost workers is not the system but the people themselves. But if there are claims for double salaries this will be detected after changes to the payroll are made. To go through all these processes would require several offices which are not linked to connive,” she said.
Kayira explained that following decentralisation of the payroll management, there was improved efficiency and hope that chances of fraud through ghost workers would be minimised.
She said: “The payroll to be managed is smaller and easy to check finer details which might have slipped through in the past. It is not easy to pinpoint who was responsible for which stage of the payroll management because players along the administration are less and can be narrowed down.”
Kayira added that the Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS) has been upgraded to include a photograph of the public servant alongside other biodata such as date of employment and any promotions effected in the period of employment.
The department is also in the process of engaging the National Registration Bureau to use the national IDs in identifying staff on the payroll.
Currently, HRMIS is able to reject some bank account numbers and similar names as a measure to reduce payroll fraud.
Kayira added that with the devolution, any delays in payment of salaries will not be blamed on the department but the officers at the council or ministries, departments and agencies.
“The deadline for submitting the GP5A forms is the 5th of every month and there is a register at the Accountant General where records of when the forms have been received are indicated. If the GP5A is submitted late to the DHRMD, it means everything will be delayed. This will mean salaries for the whole council, from teachers to the district commissioner will be paid late,” she said.
However, the decentralisation has not come without challenges as capacity of staff to manage the HRMIS at that level remains low.
“At times there are too many transactions to be inputted such as leave grants. Imagine Lilongwe District Council has a staff of 13 000 and that is not easy to do. At the same time network and connectivity problems, blackouts continue to affect the system such that the GP5A is submitted late. But we have not come across [a situation]that salaries are late because the government has no money,” she said.
Reacting to this, Civil Servants Trade Union general secretary Madalitso Njolomole said if handled carefully, the devolution would improve efficiency in payroll administration, especially by district commissioners.
“Some processes will be taking long, like transfers when following a spouse but if they can make it work, it can become effective,” he said.
The government has set up six server sites for 28 district councils where salaries will be processed. These are Zomba, Kasungu, Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mulanje.