Liberia’s ghost workers

Liberia’s government has found more than 7,000 ‘ghost’ workers on its payroll - employees who do not actually exist, or do not work for it. They were discovered when the government embarked on a civil service overhaul plan to improve efficiency. The Civil Service Agency head, William Allen, said that they “got there through the usual avenue, which is corruption’, costing Liberian tax payers about $2.6m a year.

“All the fake names have now been removed from the payroll and a biometric identity system is being introduced. This is about 99.9% foolproof, so once this technology has been installed, the government hopes to have solved the problem”, Mr Allen said. Liberia is in the process of re-building following its 14-year civil war.

What makes this story interesting?

Well, to begin with, it’s interesting because somehow we have to respect the government’s sincerity. They openly admit that some 7,000 workers – either totally non-existent or simply never turning up for work – are on the government’s payroll (for how many years is not reported). Ghost workers indeed! And they also admit that they got their ‘ghost jobs’ through the ‘usual avenue’, being corruption.

But now technology (a biometric identity system) has come to the rescue and the problem has been solved. How naïve. You can’t solve the problem of corruption with technology. Corruption is the result of a corrupt mindset. If there is a biometric identity system in place, it may have become more difficult to fake one’s identity. But it is not more difficult to bribe the officials who run the biometric identity system. As a matter of fact, these officials are happy now. Because they are now needed. There is corrupt money to be made, if you are needed.

Let’s look at the Caribbean now

If we want to solve the problem of corruption, we must first explain to the people why corruption is wrong. Think about it. Why is it wrong? What makes it wrong to bribe an official to receive a favor or permit? Ask this to people in the street. Most of them can’t answer the question. They don’t know why it is wrong.

Secondly, what is corruption? If I have a friend in the government and because of our friendship he ‘fixes’ something for me quicker than it normally takes, is that corrupt? If so, few government decisions on our islands are ever legal. We don’t have rights in the Caribbean. We receive favors or reprisals. As Caribbeans we know we must always try to have friends in high places. They come in handy. We also know we must avoid to take politicians to court, because that does not come in handy. So we hardly ever litigate against government (officials). Is that corrupt?

Where does corruption start and where does it end? If I buy a $500.- car and resell it on the same day for $1,500.-, have I then made a corrupt profit? If not, why not? What’s so wrong about giving a policeman earning $50.- a month, a $5.- bribe to let me off the hook for a traffic violation? What’s so wrong about paying some official $5.- of ‘speed-up money’ to get my petition sorted out more quickly. And what if I treat him to dinner for the same reason?

Don’t get us wrong. Whenever meeting a policeman at a snack bar, we never pay him a beer. But everybody else always does. Now, why is that? We hope to have set a few readers thinking. The problem of corruption has to be dealt with. It is the main reason why Caribbean nations do not develop or develop much too slowly. It is also the main reason why our society has degenerated, people not knowing the difference between right and wrong anymore. We’re not in favor of corruption, but unless a great majority of our people understand what it is and why it is wrong, we’ll never get rid of it. So thinking about it is the first necessary step.

And don’t forget. There is a vicious circle. If people are not paid enough, they’ll look for other ways to make some extra money. A bribe then becomes ‘helping a friend’. Talking about ‘vicious’. Corruption has many forms. Our daily video is about ‘entrapment’, a very vicious form of corruption. Diogenes used to walk around during daytime with a lamp. When asked why he did that, he explained he was looking for an honest man. Think about the problem of corruption and you’ll understand Diogenes better.