Eleven months down the line, the manhunt for ghost workers on government payroll is yet to yield the expected results, with no one so far arrested for causing the loss of K2 billion per year through fraudulent payments.
Government launched a new salary payment system in February last year, in what it said to be a move aimed at cracking down on ghost workers. Former Information and Civic Education Minister, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, and Ministry of Finance's Deputy Director responsible for Budgets, Emma Mabvumbwe, announced the institution of a new payment system that was expected to bust fraud.
The two officials revealed that the country was losing K2 billion annually in salary payments to non-existent workers, and faulted the cash-based salary payment system used to pay governments 169,000 workers at the time.
This was after four Ministry of Education workers were arrested in 2010 on suspicion of creating 135 ghost workers with the aim of stealing over K5 million every month. This followed the 2009 arrest of 11 police officers on accusations that they formed a syndicate to steal from fellow officers.
"The new system will frustrate workers who have been benefitting from the (cash-based) system," Kaunda said at the time.
But, some eleven months down the line, teams that were set to conduct head-count exercises on workers that were yet to be incorporated into the newly-introduced banking system have apprehended no single culprit. The teams comprised officials from the Auditor General, the Accountant General, The Central Internal Audit, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Acting Secretary in the Department of Public Service Management (formerly called the Department of Human Resource Management and Development), Isaac Bondo, said in a separate interview that "the story of ghost workers is no longer an issue now".
"We have managed to address the issue of ghost workers through the bank-payment system. So far, we have managed to incorporate 90 percent of the workers in the civil service, and things are working really well," Bondo said.
Bondo said the remaining 10 percent is comprised of traditional leaders who did not pose the threat of creating their own ghost workers.
"We were poised to meet our 100 percent target. However, we have had a minor problem with chiefs because most of them do not have bank accounts. In fact, when we request some of them to submit their names for processing purposes, they submit their chieftaincy names.
"The other problem with chiefs is that some of them are involved in chieftaincy wrangles, and this poses problems on whom to actually pay. All these factors have resulted in chiefs, who are also part of the system, failing to receive their honoraria through bank accounts," Bondo said.
Bondo, who said the system of tracking down workers' employment and account numbers, has helped harmonise the new payment system, hailed the new system for reducing cases of embezzlement, robbery and operational hiccups in terms of transport and security provision costs.