The Youth Ministry understated its payroll by almost $10 million in 2016, as it continues to keep thousands of employees on its books, despite a directive by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to lay them off.
President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government regularly denies charges that it has thousands of ghost workers on its payroll, who drain millions of dollars from the fiscus.
Last year, the PSC said government was losing as much as $21 million, annually, to ghost workers.
Government spends as much as 90 percent of total revenues on the wage bill and attempts by Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa to cut the civil service were publicly slapped down by Mugabe last year.
The Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment which critics accuse of housing thousands of ZANU-PF functionaries disguised as civil servants, has been among the loudest opponents of Chinamasa’s payroll reforms.
The ministry appears intent on keeping its army of ‘youth officers’ ahead of next year’s general elections.
Investigations by the Auditor General (AG) found that government’s Salary Services Bureau (SSB) processed wages amounting to $36 955 752 for the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment in 2016. However, the ministry misrepresented that its wage bill for the year was $27 092 789.
“The ministry understated its employment costs for the year under review by $9 862 963,” reads the AG’s latest report.
“Payments in respect of employment costs processed by the Salary Services Bureau amounted to $36 955 752, whilst the ministry’s ledger had $27 092 789, leaving a variance of $9 862 963 unaccounted for and unreconciled. Failure to properly monitor and reconcile employment costs may result in improper payments being made and incorrect figures may be disclosed.”
In a testy response, the ministry admitted to disregarding a Public Service Commission directive to cut staff by nearly 60 percent.
“The amount of $9 862 963 said to be unaccounted for, relates to employees that were affected by the restructuring exercise carried out by the Public Service Commission,” the ministry said.
“The affected members are still at work, at their respective work stations in the ministry, but are no longer on the establishment. The members are still waiting for redeployment.”
Unconvinced, the AG reiterates that the ministry should not conceal the full extent of its wage bill.
“The amount… relates to salaries and allowances paid to employees working under Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment and such costs should form part of the ministry’s wage bill for the year 2016,” the AG countered.
In line with government’s cost-cutting exercise, the PSC on July 26, 2016 instructed the Youth Ministry to reduce its workforce from 6 271 to 2 585.
The ministry only laid off 137 people.
In yet another touchy response to the AG’s recommendation to implement the PSC directive, the ministry shot back: “The query on excess staff is misdirected to the ministry. PSC is the best authority to respond to the query.”
To which the AG sassed: “The query is not misdirected, the issues relate to employees who are working under Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment. The Ministry should rationalise and advise PSC accordingly.”
A 2016 report by the PSC showed that government employs an average three youth officers in each of the country’s 1 200 wards, whose duties are often duplicated by nearly 1 000 officials from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
The report also noted duplication of duties in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, where extension officers are deployed to the capital Harare and Bulawayo.
Last month, a visit to Manicaland by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth and Indigenisation established that the province had 656 youth officers, with 429 of them being excess to requirements and, according to ministry officials, awaiting redeployment to other ministries.
The AG’s report has also shown how the hard-up government, which could be making savings by shedding superfluous posts, has been underfunding a programme set up to educate poor children and raiding funds meant for the disabled and the elderly.
In 2016, Treasury only released $1,5 million towards the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), against requirements of $10 million. The Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ministry, which runs the programme, even used $60 000 of the BEAM funds “to meet expenditure which was not in line with the objectives of the programme,” the AG found.
The social welfare ministry also diverted $251 000 from the disabled persons’ fund and another $63 000 from the elderly persons’ fund towards what is said were “critical expenditures which could not be deferred.” Financial Gazette