Sudan’s Gezira State: Ghosts in the Civil Service

“The Sudanese people encounter instances of corruption and lack of transparencylogo_SDFG on a daily basis. The Sudan Democracy First Group launched a project, the Sudan Transparency Initiative, to research, document and disseminate credible information about these illicit practices. The following story is part of this initiative.”

Sudan’s Gezira State: Ghosts in the Civil Service

The Gezira Scheme in Sudan is one of the largest naturally irrigated projects in the world. Situated just south of the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers at the capital city of Khartoum, it covers an area of 23,373 square kilometres (14,523 sq. miles), about 80% of the land of the State. Since its inception and the ensuing economic prosperity it brought to the country, the Gezira became an attracting state for many people from different parts of the country. In the census of 2008, the total population of the state reached 3,571.000, 12.8% of the total Sudanese population. As such, the Gezira State is the third most populated states in Sudan. Consequently, this has led to an expanded government administration that has around 68,000 civil servants distributed between eight Ministries and eight Localities. The total allocation for Chapter one (salaries) of the fiscal and financial budget of the state is estimated as 79 million Sudanese Pound (SDG).

The large size of the civil service, the weak institutions and the lack of accountability has created a fertile environment for corruption. One of the most serious examples of such practice is the payment of salaries to ghost employees such as those who resigned from theirs jobs, dismissed, diseased, or on leave-without-pay. Although these illicit practices have been uncovered more than once by the Auditor General, no serious action was taken by the state government to combat such practices or bring the perpetrators to justice.

When the Auditor General report of 2012 and 2013, repeated previously uncovered illicit practices in the civil services, some members of the legislative Assembly, started a strong campaign regarding the inaction of the executive hand of the government. The executive reaction to these criticism and campaign was to use its political influence to silence these voices instead of addressing the problem. Despite the executive branch of the government reaction, the Auditor General continued to highlight these illegal practices in the civil service. The 2014 report spoke about specific cases of corruption in the selection and appointment in the civil services. These included the hiring of employees who lack academic qualification by the Investment Department, between 1st September 2014 and 13th August 2015, the missing of 47 employees’ files and twenty two newly issued birth certificates added to employees’ file at the Department of Water Authority, long after the date of their appointment in breach to the Civil Service Rules and Regulations. Moreover, the report stated that the lack of coordination between the different departments, Ministry and Localities, especially in administration and finance, has created an enabling environment to such illicit practices.

In an unexpected and surprising move, the recently appointed Governor of the Gezira state disclosed that monthly salaries of 142 ghost civil servants were deposited in bank accounts, but nobody approached the bank to claim these funds. He also indicated that the payroll included nine names of diseased civil servants whose salaries are collected on monthly basis by unknown persons. The Governor further said “internal and general auditing of Ministries and Localities uncovered that hundreds of civil servants who are currently employed do not have record or qualifications for recruitment in the civil service of the state.” The people of the Gezira State were sceptical about this statement, because they are not used to hearing such official admission about the existence of corruption, from any official leave alone the governor. As such, most of observers justify the sudden turn around to the internal political squabbling within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and the talk about corruption was just a means to settle political scores.

Analyzing Corruption in the Employees’ Salaries:
In order to analyze this corrupt situation, we need to review the standard administrative and accounting procedures followed to prepare the monthly salaries of employees. The responsibility to prepare the monthly pay roll rests on the Accounting Department which begins this task by counting the number of employees in the unit and comparing the total to its previous month’s records and then makes all necessary changes as indicated the Human Resources Department. The Accounts Department lists the basic salary, bonuses and benefits in front of the name of each employee and then subtracts contributions to pension, social and health insurance to reach net salaries. The Accounting Department then submits the final payroll to review by the internal auditor, who only verifies the salaries, bonuses and subtractions figures but not the eligibility of the names listed. The payroll then endorsed and signed by the General Directors of all departments before submitting to the Ministry of Finance which in turn issue checks of the total sum of salaries to each department.

Each department in turn, pays cash salaries to employees through its own teller window. The disbursement of salaries is governed by a strict Financial and Accounting procedures that requires tellers to pay salaries to employees in person or a representative who produce a legal authorization to receive the salary on behave of an employee or a group of employees. However, tellers are not always abided by these procedures; in fact, most often violated. For example, many schools would send a representative from the school to the Ministry of Education or to the education offices in localities to the collect salaries of the said school’s employees. The tellers at Ministry of Education or education offices, acting based on trust and experience, does not ask the representative for the legal authorization signed by all employees for whom he/she is collecting salaries.

As such, the tellers would disburse the salaries without verifying whether these employees are employed and report to work or not. Another example that also testify to these type of corruption, is the deliberate neglect, slow and inaccurate updating of employees’ records. A teacher took a one year leave without pay to accompany her husband abroad. However, when her leave expired she continued to her stay abroad for twelve years without prior permission or extension of the leave. Upon return to Sudan, she submitted an application to return to her previous position, as a teacher, under the assumption that her employment was terminated because of a long absence. However, and to her surprise, she discovered that her employment was not terminated, her regular promotions were kept and her salary was paid on monthly basis to an unknown person.

>From the narrative above, it is obvious that corruption in the civil services is rampant. However, ghost employment has a lot to do with the limited role of the Human Resources Department in payroll preparation, review and approval

>From the above analysis, it is clear that the recent introduction of the direct deposit of salaried in bank accounts has made it possible to uncover the ghost employees phenomena. However, while this is good step in the right direction, combating corruption in the civil service requires more measures including the trial of all employees who facilitate or commit these crimes to the court of law. It is not enough to talk about the number of ghost employees and the wasted funds consumed by their salaries, especially when the investigation uncover a web of personal and group financial and political interests that stands behind these practices. The only deterrence that would stop employees from engaging in type of crimes is to abolish impunity and let the law take precedence over political and kinship relations.

In addition to the legal course of action that would eradicate impunity, administrative and institutional improvement is required to lessen the likelihood of corruption in government institutions. A good example of such an intervention is to establish close coordination between all concerned departments during preparation payrolls, to allow for cross checking and verification. It is also important to strictly apply the rules and regulation enshrined in financial procedures documents and the Civil Service Acts. Administrative reprimand and punishment for those who violates these rules would set the record straight and serve as a deterrent.

In spite of the statements of the government officials, whether in the national or state levels and their readiness and commitment to combat corruption through the enactment of existing and new anti-corruption laws, nonetheless, observers believe that these statements are merely made to absorb the anger of the public after many corruption stories have surfaced and became the talk of the people. Moreover, no legal proceedings or serious investigations have ever been carried regarding any of the cases mentioned in the annual Auditor General reports and many people believe this will never happen since most of those involved in these cases are members of the ruling party or their relative.

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