Will Ghost Names Ever Leave Ghana’s Public Sector?                                   

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Accra, Ghana, May 26, 2020//-Ghanaians are tired of hearing, reading and watching in the media of their limited government resources meant for development projects are rather stashed in the pockets of corrupt public officials.

 In some cases, foreign aid given generously by development partners to the country to undertake meaningful projects to ease the burden of the citizens are also not spared.

 Many stories of ghost workers in collusion with some payroll managers are deliberately taking advantage of the weak payroll management system to enrich themselves at the expense poor, the vulnerable and the state.

This sinful practice is pervasive in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa and other developing countries with weak public financial management and high levels of corruption.

Is it amazing that government workers die and still remain on the payroll drawing monthly salaries? Some even get promotions leading to salary increments.

Their salaries keep coming and some staff conspire with the payroll manager(s) and human resource managers to access the cash for their personal use.

Who are the Ghost Workers?

Technically, a ghost worker, or ghost employee is someone recorded on the payroll system, but who does not work for the organization or the institution.

The ghost worker/ghost employee can be a real person, who with or without their knowledge, is placed on the payroll, or a fictitious person invented by the dishonest staff, according to Ian Hawley, author and seasoned auditor, and Partner with Abyrint, a leading global management consultancy firm based in Norway.

“A major consideration is whether you have to look for real people to be your ghost workers or if you are able to enroll ghosts with fictitious identities.

Real people come with high costs and risks.

They will want to profit from their participation in the scheme and each additional individual aware of the scam increases the risk that the wrong people will find out. This could further increase costs to keep things quiet or even put an end to the scam entirely”.

“Not very difficult in cash based payment systems, which still exist in many fragile countries. The payment agent simply takes the money. Perhaps a signature needs to be forged. Who is going to know?

If further controls are in place and involve additional people, the profit may need to be shared. Those in the know must be kept quiet”, he, explained.

For instance, Ghana’s Auditor General’s Department recently reported that the country lost a whopping GH¢564.2 million to ‘ghost’ names on the payroll of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

 These unaccounted for employees comprised GH¢467.6 million of the total unearned salaries.

The periodic audit exercise, which was carried out in 2018, in accordance with Section 16 of the Audit Service Act, 2000 (Act 584) discovered that 7,823 ghost employees in 21 MDAs of the country.

The various MDAs include ministries of Education, Finance, Energy, Defence, Communications, Health, Information, Interior, Railway Development, and Foreign Affairs while the affected agencies are the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Electoral Commission, the Judicial Service and the Local Government Service, according to the report.

Who profits from ghost workers?

While individuals in various positions can be well positioned to organize such a scheme, and to influence those with the necessary authority, a ghost worker program relies heavily on the participation of the person authorizing the periodic salary payments, Mr Hawley added.

The role played by the ‘Line Manager’ includes a basic control by which payments are only authorized for individuals who are performing work and it would be rare that individuals not performing work would be put forward for payment unwittingly by a Line Manager.

Note that while Line Mangers can take decisions on their own, in weak control environments there are also low barriers to Line Managers being directed by more senior officials.

In schemes build around the Line Manager’s authority, there are variants as to who else needs to be involved to make the scheme a success.

The most common accomplices to the Line Manager are those making the actual salary payments and people involved in the hiring process. With all of these bases covered, the internal controls face a formidable challenge.

Remember however, the more people involved, the higher the costs and the risks. Does a savvy Line Manager really need the cooperation of others? He asked.


The practice is a serious and widespread problem in Ghana and across the globe. “Beyond ghostly civil servants and the human resource impacts, and the obvious leakage of public financing and corruption, it is impacting the credibility of the state.

It may impact rule of law more broadly. It may impact economic growth and certainly reduces the effectiveness of public spending as it is misdirected. It concerns the agencies of international development. Complex political economy explanations are often sought”, Mr Hawley said.

How can it be addressed?

Basic controls can discourage and limit opportunities for ghost worker fraud. Segregation of authorities and duties, substantive reviews of payroll at multiple levels, and informed management and executives can go a long way, he added.

“These principles are the same as for general public financial management and budget execution. Controls are useful however only if operated effectively. Control effectiveness requires a reasonable expectation that exceptions will be identified, and consequences will follow”

Commenting on the recent detection of ghost names on the payroll of Ghana’s MDAs, a Ghanaian Professor of Accounting based in the U.S, Kwaku Asare called on the Auditor General’s Department of Ghana to move from conducting payroll audits to forensic audits.

According to him, this would enable it to find out the creators of ghost names in various government offices across the country.

So the ghost name problem which is as old as the Ghana’s republic itself can never be eradicated even with the best sophisticated technology. This is because it is ‘manufactured’ by human beings for their personal gains.

Also, a long as government employees can take their cut and don’t get punished or sacked when caught, then ghost names will continue to persist in the country’s public sector.

By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, African Eye Report

Email: mk68008@gmail.com