Gabon tries new trick to flush out ‘ghost’ workers

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Gabon has tried a new trick to flush out bogus employees on the government payroll, but at the cost of leaving genuine workers bemused at the bureaucratic maze they have to face.

Fake jobs are a familiar problem in the west African state — employees are hired by a government department but do not bother to show up for work.

In some cases, employees have left the country or even died, but their wages are still paid. Rooting out the practice “is an immense task,” a senior government official admits.

The government this week began requiring workers to physically pick up a special “cash voucher” which they then take to the bank in order to receive their salary.

But the operation has been hit by problems — workers in Libreville have had to scour the capital to find where they can acquire the precious document, and then join hundreds of others in a queue to get their hands on it.

The task is a “nightmare,” the pro-government daily L’Union said, describing the challenge of finding where to go as a “detective game.”

“We must be sure that agents are genuinely in the position for which they are being paid,” Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet has said, adding that the verification operation would run until July 24.

Oil-rich Gabon’s economy has been badly hit by downturns in the price for crude.

Supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government is seeking to slash the state payroll from 720 billion CFA francs ($1.28 billion, 1.1 billion euros) in 2017 to below 500 billion.

The country has 108,851 civil servants, an increase of 45 percent in nine years, in a population of 1.8 million. Cost-cutting measures include a 40-percent reduction in the number of civil servants working for the presidency.