Thursday, March 28, 2013


By Njousi Abang*
The phenomenon of ghost workers in Cameroon is endemic. It can’t be eliminated as simplistically as the Minister of Finance imagines and claims. No amount of censuses can ever curb the situation so long as the government remains the way it is. A ghost can’t chase away another one. They are birds of a feather so they flock together. Since the draconian diabolic cuts in salaries in the 90s and the institution of official corruption and political witch-hunting, state agents and civil servants have ceased being themselves. They are just phantoms even though they practically present themselves for work. Most of them only pay lip service to the powers that be. They know fully well that they are not being treated honourably by all vote holders who misappropriate government revenue through fake projects and unrealistic programmes that do not reflect the wishes of the employees and the tax payers. Work for most is simply a formality. They report present for work but do no work or are bribed to do their work. Of course, when employers pretend to pay workers pretend to work. In the end, both start complaining about failed promises and deliveries. The end result is underdevelopment and retrogression in Cameroon. This write up attempts to define a ghost worker and state what accounts for this endemic phenomenon in Cameroon. It also provides a way out of this.

 Who is a Ghost Worker? 
Since the birth of the New Deal Government in Cameroon, many linguistic items have gained prominence in our milieu. The expression ghost worker is one amongst them. It is used primarily to refer to a worker in the public service who abandons his duty for greener pastures without formally disengaging himself from his former employer-the government. Most often when this situation arises, the employee still continues to receive his/her salary by himself/herself or through an accomplice or an agent who shares the booty with him/her. The implication is that such a worker keeps on receiving a salary for no work done. Secondly, ghost workers are all those who appear on the state payroll when they are not physically working for the government. This category refers to those who have died, those whose names are fitted on the pay roll when they have never been officially recruited and those who exist only on paper but have never ever been born or recruited to work. The Minister himself complained aloud recently that these are fitted on the payroll by unscrupulous vote holders and some staff in the Ministry of Finance, which he had uncovered and was going to deal with them according to the laws in place. Lastly, those who receive double salaries and claim undo allowances only help to swell up this category of workers because salaries and allowances are paid according to services rendered. One job one salary is the guiding principle for allotting salaries.
      This aforementioned definition notwithstanding, the situation in the public service as per now shows that many of those who are physically present for work and those who are not, are all ghost workers. When we examine the near insignificant quantity and the quality of work done by these workers, we cannot fail to conclude that the public service is full of ghost workers, which no amount of checks can curb. It is no secret therefore, that whenever people go to public offices they are often confronted by unwelcoming public servants who complain that services can’t be delivered because “le Patron n’est pas la” or “Il est en re-union or en mission”. Quite often these absences are so rampant that they become a regular phenomenon and authenticate the view that “le patron” is a ghost worker. Since the subordinates depend on the patron for supervision and continuity, when he/she is not around, they inadvertently also go on a holiday. This is made worse by the fact that the public service lacks time tables set for anything to be done. Similarly, the most of workers are not always there to deliver the goods and services required. If we start from the top and crawl down to the bottom where you meet the lower echelons of the service, you will be confronted with inertia, absenteeism, inattentiveness, inefficiency and failure. The president himself admitted that there was inertia in the service and that improvements were going to be done. We are yet to see significant changes on the ground in many sectors.
      Due to this wild phenomenon, what do we find daily as a result? -Waste, inefficiency, laxity and complaints. People complain a lot about poor and inadequate delivery of services and goods. People tell gruesome tales about bribery and corrupt practices in service delivery operations. Most public servants only become alive when they are paid an illicit or an extra token for their services. Where some of these workers can’t receive these tokens, they simply take excuses and stay away from work. This situation has degenerated due to the open acceptance by the government that public servants should participate in active politics and carry out individual businesses. Public servants now have exaggerated divided attention and bias appreciation of their contracts to serve the state.  They live for themselves now more than the government which they serve and for which they are paid a commensurate salary. A taxi driver once wondered allowed why the government continues pay the policemen in one check point when they spend all the time collecting bribes instead of serving the nation. He went further to wonder allow where the guys have kept their consciences and their love for the fatherland whom they pretend to serve. He also noted that this guys whom he had taken note of are the first to go to the banks at the month end and complain loudest when salaries delay to come. However, he concluded that since the regime in place banks on their support for staying in power so anything goes.
      Work in the Cameroon public service nowadays is equal to salary plus bribery and fringe benefits. After all, the most recurrent saying is that “goat di chop for place weh them tie yi.” How can anyone be indifferent to the status quo when one is of the system and runs the system? How can one oppose the very foundation on which he is standing? How can one be a purist when he lives with impurity and feeds fat on it? How did most of the workers come to be employed? Were they recruited through efficient and just systems that paid attention to merit? Was regional balance taken into consideration? What criteria are set for future recruitment and checks of ghost workers? Can a ghost chase another one? Who has actually ever caught a ghost? These and many other questions are the issues that will be tackled in the preceding lines.

What accounts for the endemic Ghost Worker Culture in Cameroon?
We noted earlier on, that there are two categories of ghost workers in Cameroon. There are the ones who are on duty, and answer present in the work place but do no work, and those who are not there at all but are only represented on the payroll by unscrupulous state functionaries who benefit from the deals and in turn help to sustain the regime in place. We also noted that the salary cuts which reduced these workers to beggars gave birth to unhealthy practices which were hatched in order to sustain the workers and their families. How on earth can you expect a category D worker to live in Yaounde or Douala without fringe benefits? While this situation was degenerating, the government instead of reviewing it, introduced taxes and some draconian measures to help itself and not the workers that serve it in general. Similarly, the rise in commodity prices further compounded the situation and rendered the workers more vulnerable to all odds. In the face of these happenings, public servants had no alternative than to abandon work and look for other means of achieving their livelihoods. For instance, brain drain skyrocketed without a corresponding lose of the connections that enabled the ghost workers resulting thereof to grab salaries.
    A drowning man, it is said, can cling unto a serpent. Many compromised their moral obligations on the altar of bread. Consequently, today corruption abounds everywhere as people search for ways of surviving. Many have just become scamers and white collar thieves. Most workers do not do what they like but what can help them survive. Demonism has taken precedence over the quest for divine intervention. Only the best are strong enough to resist the temptation to cheat and join occult groups and societies. Work ethics and culture have been reduced to naught. After all, is it of any use to put in your best and receive peanuts when you can cut corners and still arrive and be revered by the community?
     Furthermore, some people may have the good intentions to work but the system of motivation in place which is bias to political leanings and preferment instead of meritocracy hampers any such attempt and nips glorious attempts at the bud. Only favourites of those in the regime make it to the top whether they are capable of delivering the goods and services or not. When political events are organized, most workers abandon their jobs and go out to support them in the hope of winning political favours. Those who are left go out to do their businesses thus leaving the government offices empty. When they regroup, they do so more like hawkers than workers. Similarly, they do so more like predators who want to prey on government resources. Like the real hawks they are, they sell services and market public goods and services at the expense of the Cameroonian people who pay dearly to sustain them.
     Some public servants have benefited so much from this situation that they can do anything under the sun to keep the system going as bad as it is. They will bar any move towards meaningful reforms and stop anybody from participating in the game plan except when they are initiated according to their terms. The effect is that Cameroon has been brought to disrepute and many Cameroonians who do not belong to this minute privilege group are suffering. Day-by-day many workers who kept their heads above the waters either run away or become ghosts while still alive.

 What can be done to curb this Phenomenon of Ghost Workers?
 Government is at the centre of the problem and should be at the centre of the solution or else no matter what we say think or do will be ineffective. Good governance comes from good action plans based on set goals and a vision, accountability and responsible behaviour. When top public functionaries behave like mercenaries and unpatriotic elements, what do you expect? What do you also expect of a people whose sovereignty has been hijacked and confiscated to the extent that they cannot take meaningful decisions,  via elections, concerning those who can deliver the goods and services which they deserve? Government must let go of its patronizing and stranglehold on ineffective systems and mediocre functionaries that serve no other interest than that of its decaying system.
     Furthermore, salaries of workers should be increased to reasonable levels so as to enable them regain their human dignity. Thereafter, a system of checks and balances should be put in place. A progressive system of promotion and rewards for excellence should be put in place based on meritocracy instead of political and tribal affiliation and nepotism. Public servants should also be made to retire honourably without panic. Similarly, it will not be difficult in a federal system of government to track the activities of its workers since government will be by the people for the people. After all, who does not know his/her neighbour? Who won’t be able to account for his/her presence or absence from work at the spur of the moment? Who cannot comment on the quality of work done or failure in his/her neighbourhood to the nearest port of call? Over centralization and the role of Yaounde in the management of state functionaries is at the centre of the mafia in place. Until Yaounde stops thinking that they must do all and know all, this country will never move forward. Just imagine the recurrent tales in our communities about the so called 'Ministers’ cut', that of 'the Directors, Regional authorities, Divisional and Sub divisional cuts' and that of 'the paymasters' and committees put in place to monitor expenses, and you will understand why so many projects and files hardly ever reach their desired targets.
    Most public business is shrouded in mystery. For instance, nobody knows how much top civil servants earn in this country although the common man contributes the money to pay them. Until someone somewhere steps on the master’s toes do we know how much they have embezzled from the public till. Lastly, let’s recruit in a manner that gives meritocracy and regional balance a chance. Let’s stop this culture of rewarding people with government jobs whether they are qualified to do them or not. It will be worthwhile to give job security and meritocracy a chance in our public service sector so that all will be well. Lets also institute commensurate reward and punishment where and whenever it is due. On –the- job training and reclassification should be automatic. Retirement benefits should be made available to retired workers automatically. Senior citizens MUST not suffer to get what they spent the best part of their lives to work for. There should no longer be any chasing of files or movements of workers to Yaounde for this or that purpose. Recruitment and payment of salaries and allowances should be a one stop event and not a long drawn out battle between the employees and the employers. This presents a lot of risks and unhealthy practices which demoralizes workers a lot. We need to overhaul the whole public service and kill the division between a state agent and a civil servant. Do these two groups serve different employers or render less hours of work? Diffuse the tension and there will be no ghosts like it were the case during the previous regimes and particularly in Southern Cameroon.
   This bothers us because it is beginning to destroy the private sector and family incomes are dropping drastically. We need to emerge soonest as a developed nation because we have the wherewithal.
* Njouisi Abang is a senior official of People's  Action Party(PAP),Cameroon

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