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Cham spends K7.7m on ghost workers

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By Mandy Pondani

Auditor General’s (AG) report for 2019- 20 financial year has revealed that Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) spent slightly over K7.7 million in paying ghost workers for 10 months.

Acting AG Thomas Makiwa has said in the report an inspection at Cham facilities of staff return, payroll and identity cards and physical verification of employees exposed the anomaly, which breaches Section 4.1.5 of the Memorandum of Understanding that the organisation has with government.

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But while admitting that there were duplicated names in their system that were receiving salaries, Cham Executive Director Happy Makala in his written response to our questionnaire Thursday denied that they were ghost workers.

“The audit disclosed some weaknesses in financial control and other related gaps…Ghost workers: there were names on the payroll that were duplicated and had different employment numbers. A total of K7,719,665.00 was paid for the period of ten months,” reads Makiwa’s report in part.

During the audit, it was also established that there were 26 members of staff who were still in service and consequently drawing salaries even after they had reached their retirement age.

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The report indicates that Cham did not provide information on how the employees in question are still in service.

Makiwa also says in the report the auditors found it strange that members of staff for Cham establishments were not yet entered in government’s Human Resources for Health Information System, adding in 2018 some employees appeared on payroll but were not on staff return

“A total of 26 employees appearing on payroll reached retirement age, yet they were not removed from the payroll. The audit team was not provided with any evidence as to whether they were engaged by the government through Cham on a month-to-month basis or any other arrangement,” the report adds.

Makala, however, said most of the anomalies have been rectified and that they have migrated from the manual system to something digital which aids accurate capturing of information.

“The observation of the AG that there were names on the payroll that were duplicated and had different employment numbers is true. However, these were not ghost workers as such but only that the names had been duplicated by error when new employees were being introduced on the payroll,” he said.

He said with the new system, the double entries were all detected and corrected and that they are now conducting quarterly human resource audit exercises of the payroll in conjunction with Ministry of Health (MoH)’s Department of Human Resource.

About employees working past their retirement age, Makala said they were 34 and have so far retired and been removed from the payroll.

Asked if they were aware of the issues at Cham as highlighted in the audit report and what they are doing to rectify them, MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said: “I am waiting for responses from our HR. Let’s keep in touch.”

Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willie Kambwandira said the revelations call for review of the country’s human resource management data system so that it is able to flush out people who have reached retirement age.

“It is sad that findings of audits like these are always ignored and this is what is fueling the continued abuse of public funds and creation of ghost workers on government’s payroll. This is serious issue and we expect proper disciplinary measures including criminal charges on government officers who involved in this fraud,” Kambwandira said.

Government gives Cham an average of K2.9 billion a month for salaries of its 10,195 employees in all of its 195 health facilities and training colleges across the country totalling to about K34.8 billion in a year.

Cham is the largest non-governmental healthcare provider and the largest trainer of healthcare practitioners in Malawi, providing up to 30 per cent of Malawi’s healthcare services and trains up to 80 per cent of Malawi’s healthcare providers.

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