South Africa

Over 1,000 ‘ghost workers’ in government get spooked and resign

State-owned passenger rail company Prasa is still chasing ghosts, with an investigation into thousands of unidentifiable workers on its payroll progressing.

Responding to a written parliamentary Q&A this week, the minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula, said that an investigation into suspected ‘ghost workers’ on the Prasa payroll flagged 2,143 employees as suspicious – including 1,480 who could not be physically verified.

Meanwhile, 1,159 workers resigned at the start of the investigation.

This investigation began almost ten months ago after suspicions were raised that as many as 3,000 unverified employees sit on Prasa’s payroll. The investigation was conducted under Project Ziveze, which froze the salaries of employees who failed to present themselves for verification.

At the start of the investigation, of the 17,268 recorded employees on Prasa’s payroll system, 14,268 employees presented themselves for verification – which led to suspicions that there could be a large number of ghost employees at Prasa.

“Services of an independent investigator were commissioned to establish if these 3,000 employees were indeed ghost workers, and to identify weaknesses in the Prasa systems as well as identifying culpable officials who may have colluded with unscrupulous people to create ghost employees where this was found to be the case,” said Mbalula.

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“The investigation was conducted with the support of Home Affairs, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Umalusi, and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA),” he added.

According to the minister, the investigation ultimately flagged 2,143 employees, who were then grouped according to the following categories:

  • Possible ghost employees who could not be physically verified;
  • Employees masquerading as somebody else, thus potential identity theft;
  • Fraudulent qualifications submitted; and
  • Employees with serious criminal offences.

Mbalula said that 1,480 employees could not be physically verified as their files or documentation are non-existent.

The investigation also revealed several instances where ID photos did not match the face of employees, finding that the root cause of these incidents to be:

  • Incorrect data capturing of employee information, resulting in a corrupted employee database;
  • Weaknesses in Prasa’s ICT systems; and
  • Weaknesses in Prasa’s internal control environment.

While this investigation has taken almost 10 months to complete, Mbalula said that the project was affected by several challenges that hindered the investigation – including resistance from flagged employees, missing paperwork, evidence tampering, collusion with Prasa’s Human Capital Management officials, and threats against the safety of people working on the project.

Course of action

As a consequence of the developments, the next steps include taking urgent action to address the findings and challenges identified by the investigation, Mbalula said. These include:

  • A forensic investigation that will conduct a deep dive on critical issues flagged in the preliminary investigation;
  • A Digital fingerprint and Photo ID verification process with the assistance of the Department of Home Affairs. This exercise is currently underway. The completion of this exercise will then enable PRASA to freeze the salaries of those flagged;
  • Digitisation of files and supporting documents;
  • Clean up of the employee database;
  • Employees who submitted fraudulent qualifications will be served with letters to explain themselves, failing which stricter action will be taken in line with the applicable prescripts; and
  • Criminal charges will be laid against those who have committed fraud, including recovery of funds from those who left the Organisation and are traceable through initiatives of the law enforcement agencies.

Read: Criminals are stealing South Africa one piece at a time – but government has a plan

Artmotion S.Africa

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