Windhoek-The education ministry is literally counting the number of teachers and non-teaching staff at every school and education office in every region to see if the numbers tally with those on the payroll – amidst fears a good number comprises ‘ghost employees’.
Through this process of verification 20 teachers and officials suspected of defrauding the government of N$10 million were arrested in Zambezi Region. And now the ministry says the Zambezi fraud is just the tip of the iceberg.
Kavango East and Kavango West are the other two regions identified as ‘problematic’ in this regard, and where verifications have unearthed some irregularities. Files for the two regions have already been submitted to the police to start criminal investigations.
“We are scrutinising each and every region. Each individual person who is on our payroll, [who is] receiving a salary under the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture will be physically verified,” the ministry’s deputy permanent secretary for finance and administration, Otto Knox Imbuwa, said in an interview with New Era yesterday.
The verification exercise in the three regions was concluded in December 2016 but the ministry only handed the information to the police last month for them to pursue criminal charges.
The countrywide verification includes non-teaching staff in the education ministry and is to be conducted in all 14 regional directorate offices in the current financial year.
“We did headcounts where some teachers were not available to be counted or verified – we required physical verification. We gave them another extension of 30 days for them to appear at their regional offices. We left them forms to be signed. But to our surprise, nobody came forward. This arose suspicion because if you are receiving a salary, you would come and ensure that you are counted,” he said.
The payroll verification exercise commenced in mid-2016 with the assistance of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in the regions of Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West.
Interestingly, Imbuwa says, in some cases during the verification process the education ministry did stop paying the salaries of those who did not come to be verified in the month of July. The expectation was that the person would arrive at the ministry or school to enquire why the salary was not paid. But people did not show and the police will investigate.
The ministry also believes that in some regions the defrauding of government through the payroll system dates back beyond 2011.
“From our side, we are concerned. I think these are problems that compounded our financial situation. Often you would hear from education that we have overspent, particularly on the wage bill. And these are some of the elements that have led to that kind of situation,” he said.
Among the 20 people arrested are teachers, accountants, administrative clerks and people who either once worked as substitution teachers on contract or teachers who resigned. All were on the payroll of the education regional offices for Zambezi Region.
By yesterday two people were still on the run. The group is alleged to have defrauded the government of N$10 million by claiming salaries that were either overinflated or they were not entitled to, in the period between 2011 and 2016.
Imbuwa says the new administration leadership in the education ministry has always heard of the ‘ghost teachers’ phenomenon – people who are not teachers receiving monthly salaries as teachers – “but the administration is now determined to end the practice”.
“Now that we are in the system we wanted to find out who are these ghost teachers. We wanted to find out why the wage bill of education is so high because of ghost teachers.”