Muhammad Sufyan Qazi does not have a job. He has a degree in engineering from the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences and possesses multiple other educational certificates. Unfortunately, all those have not helped him get employed.
Earlier this year, he passed a test for the post of a trainee engineer at Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), a government-owned oil company, but was told that people from Balochistan were not being hired this time around. Before that, he appeared in a Balochistan Public Service Commission exam for one of about 100 vacancies for posts such as assistant commissioners and section officers. He got 53 per cent marks in total which should have made him eligible for selection — save for a single mark he lost in general knowledge.
Qazi was among 20,000 people who applied for those posts. Only a few succeeded in getting them. In contrast, tens of thousands of people in Balochistan are occupying government jobs either on bogus and doctored identity documents, or are receiving salaries without doing any work.
Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, chief minister of the province between 2013 and 2015, was the highest government representative to accept that 900 government schools, thousands of their teachers and around 400,000 children supposedly enrolled in these schools were only apparitions of the government’s imagination. They did not exist. Yet, government records show that funds were dispersed to those schools, and teachers were receiving salaries every month.
Sensing that the problem of non-existing workplaces and their ghost employees could be much bigger, Balochistan‘s finance department signed an agreement with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) earlier this year to verify the identity and existence of all provincial government employees. The department handed over the data of 295,457 employees to NADRA which later reported that 271 government servants held more than one Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) and occupied two government jobs simultaneously. It also found that 41 employees were below 18 years of age when appointed and were, therefore, ineligible for the posts they currently occupy; another 624 were found to be foreigners.
NADRA’s data analysis found 45,000 CNICs submitted by the government to be either suspicious or downright bogus. Out of these, NADRA declared 28,367 as fake. Absolutely no record existed for 12,431 of them and another 1,620 were found revoked on the suspicion that they were obtained illegally by foreigners. Further checks are being run on 17,341 CNICs before their authenticity can be determined. When the data of 46,932 pensioners in the province was passed through the same verification process, the identity of 12,341 of them could also not be validated.
Most of the employees with suspicious, duplicate and fake identity documents belong to health, education, agriculture, communication and works, or police departments. Some of them are senior officers as well.
Balochistan’s finance secretary Captain (retd) Akbar Hussain Durrani says his department has reviewed the NADRA report carefully. There could be some minor discrepancies in it, he says. Due to clerical mistakes in the official data, identities of some genuine employees may have brought on wrongful suspicion, he explains. However, departments have been advised that they may approach NADRA to rectify those cases.
Durrani says he has also sent NADRA’s report to all concerned departments advising them to take necessary steps against ghost employees. So far, only the education department has taken action. It has stopped the salaries of over 200 teachers in Killa Abdullah and Kachhi districts. Not even foreigners and those holding dual jobs have been shown the door yet.
Abdul Majeed Khan Achakzai – who recently made headlines for running over a traffic warden in Quetta – is the chairman of the Balochistan Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. He says he has taken notice of the ghost employees detected by NADRA and will make the government take action. “I personally know of ghost teachers and employees who are drawing salaries from five to six [government] departments simultaneously. The treasury officer in Killa Abdullah once told me [about] a man who has six identity cards and draws six salaries from different departments,” Achakzai says.
Those not attending to their duties or occupying multiple government posts are not the only types of ghost employees. According to a Quetta-based former bureaucrat who served on important posts for 36 years, there is a third category too: those who exist only in name and not in person. Their existence has been manufactured by others who are receiving financial benefits on their own behalf.
All these different manifestations of the ghost employee phenomenon, he says, are inflicting losses of billions of rupees to the provincial exchequer. “But [the phenomenon] continues unabated because the authorities concerned will never have the determination to tackle or curb it,” he says without wanting to disclose his name.
If anything, the number of ghost employees is on the rise and is taking new forms, he says. Some government employees, for instance, pay a portion of their salaries to substitutes who perform their duties while the employees themselves are either doing a better paying job or running their own businesses, he adds. The practice is common even in the provincial civil secretariat.
As a remedy, he suggests that service records and profiles of all government employees must be computerised regardless of the post they hold and the grade they have. Also, each one of them should be paid through a cross cheque which no one else except the bearer can deposit.
Short of that, every employee should have a NADRA-verified CNIC to enable his department to probe his identity and eligibility to hold a government post, says a senior NADRA official in Quetta. His department has offered to issue CNICs to all Balochistan government employees through special arrangements. The CNICs will not only help the government in getting rid of ghost employees, they will also be useful in scrutinising future candidates for government jobs, in payment of pensions, in disbursing salaries and in monitoring the presence of employees at their duties, he says.
There seems to be some movement in this direction. “We have suggested introducing a biometric system across the province to monitor teachers’ presence,” says Achakzai. This system will also help the government find out if a school actually exists on the ground or only on paper, he says.
Those who know how the government works believe that mechanisation and digitisation of records and identities will not address the problem completely. There are other hurdles too that need addressing, says the retired officer. He identifies unions that represent government employees as one of the biggest stumbling blocks. The employees exert pressure on the government through their unions which threaten with strikes and agitation if and when the authorities decide to take any action against ghost officials, he says. But he insists the government must swallow “this bitter pill” of protests and evict illegal holders of government jobs.
Once those thousands of government posts occupied by ghost employees become available again to genuinely qualified candidates, graduates like Muhammad Sufyan Qazi may not find it difficult to land a job.
This was originally published in the Herald's September 2017 issue under the title "Phantom state". To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is a senior correspondent for daily Dawn. Based in Quetta, he writes on current affairs and politics in Balochistan.