KAMPALA. At least 25,000 pensioners are unaccounted for, and for that reason, the authorities at the Ministry of Public Service, are in the process of either declaring them ‘ghosts’ or dead, before they are removed from the government payroll.
The affected individuals (retired teachers, nurses, soldiers and others) whose particulars are yet to be disclosed, did not show up for the just concluded national validation exercise. Ministry officials have, therefore, categorised them as phantoms pending appeals.
Sources at the Ministry of Public Service told Sunday Monitor that out of the 73,000 targeted public service pensioners in the country, only 48,000 showed up for the census that ended on April 20.
The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Ms Catherine Musingwiire, on Friday explained that while the validation of pensioners closed, there will be another window for those who did not turn up for the exercise. She, however, didn’t rule out deleting or stopping payments for some pensioners.
The 25,000 pensioners have until tomorrow, Monday to present their documents at the special desk, which has been set up at the ministry for that purpose.
“We are going to stop paying them unless they show evidence that they exist,” Ms Musingwiire said.
“There are people who gave us documents, especially those living abroad, we cannot lump them with others. We are going to scrutinise these and if they don’t exist, we cannot continue paying people who don’t exist. We are cleaning the system and this is the purpose for this exercise,” she said.
Mr Robert Lwasa, a system analyst, who coordinated the validation exercise, explained that names deleted from the payroll will only be reinstated after affected pensioners have presented national ID cards as evidence that they are not ghosts.
“We are going to delete them from the payroll because we cannot confirm whether they are dead or alive,” Mr Lwasa told a local FM station on Friday.
But Reagan Okumu, the chairman of Parliament’s Local Government Accounts Committee, has raised fears that the names of genuine pensioners could unwittingly be removed in the coming ghost-weeding exercise.
“Frequent validation of public servants, soldiers and pensioners causes problems and later these people turn out to be the same problem solvers and in the process we lose money. The system should be able to weed out the dead without using the exercise to steal public funds through ghosts,” Mr Okumu said.
Some technocrats in the ministry want an immediate removal from the system of the 25,000 who didn’t turn up for the validation exercise. Others, however, have advised that the missing be given a second chance before they are removed from the payroll.
But people such as Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi have called the plan to delete “crazy” and wondered whether there are no records to prove that the 25,000 were civil servants.
Former Bunyole East MP Mr Emmanuel Dombo and the Gender Ministry PS, Mr Pius Bigirimana, however, support deletion of the 25,000 names but on condition that the ministry of Public Service opens a suspense account where their money could be kept, pending appeals.
“The purpose of the exercise is to clean the register for pensioners. If indeed those people are there, they should appear for verification and if they are unable, they should communicate to the ministry, otherwise they may be ghosts stealing public funds,” Mr Bigirimana said.
Auditor General John Muwanga in a recent report, indicated how officials at the Ministry of Public Service “misappropriated” more than Shs165.4b, through ghost beneficiaries from the police, prisons and the army. This amount was paid as gratuity to 3,000 non-existent pensioners.
Mr Muwanga’s findings followed a special investigation into the public pensions sector at the request of the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Muhakanizi.
The AG report showed the extent of what legislators called, “the unchecked plunder” in the ministry where payments of the Shs165.4b was “not backed with personal files to provide employment details of the beneficiaries”.
On November 11, 2016, the Anti-Corruption Court convicted former Public Service officials, including the then PS Jimmy Lwamafa, Christopher Obey, former principal accountant in the pensions department and Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa, a former director of research and development of 10 corruption charges.
They were found guilty of fraudulently budgeting for Shs88.2b as purported contributions to the National Social Security Fund, well knowing that civil servants don’t contribute to NSSF. This was part of the Shs165.4b to ghost pensioners.
Although the Minister of Public Service, Mr Muruli Mukasa, had announced that the census of pensioners would begin on February 13 and end on March 30, 2017 across the country, the exercise was later extended to April 20. Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political analyst and history don at Makerere University, asked government to publish the 25,000 names before declaring the affected individuals ghosts.
“Let government publish their names like banks do for redundant accounts, give a deadline and then delete them. Some senior citizens may be deleted because they failed to appear for the validation exercise for one reason or the other. But then who has been signing for that money? Mr Ndebesa asked.
As for Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, he wondered, “Why would this regime take a gamble on such serious matters involving people’s rights? Are they suggesting that all along they didn’t have a genuine record or data bank for pensioners? It’s granted that there could be ghost pensioners but why use the validation exercise as the only available tool for verification? That will certainly attract protracted and costly litigation.”