By: Stephen G. Fellajuah
Maintaining a lean and efficient national budget has always been an uphill task for the Liberian government which is the single largest employer in the country. Big government for many administrations in the past has come to mean spending extra expenditure even when the available resources and revenues are scarce to support the national budget. But in a bid to cut down on waste and streamline expenditure by having a smaller efficient public service workforce, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFPD), in collaboration with the Civil Service Agency (CSA), has undertaken the digitalization of the country’s payroll system to detect payroll fraud and double dipping from civil servants, which often keeps the payroll bloated and the wage bill astronomically high.
According to the Executive Director of the Liberia Macroeconomics Policy Analysis Center (LMPAC) at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Mr. Del- Francis Wreh, the digitalization of payroll systems is the only means through which the country can fight payroll fraud. He said his institution is gradually working towards the completion of the project before the next budget year.
Director Wreh further said, “Digitization is the only means identified in the twenty-first century to help fight payroll frauds”.
Mr. Wreh made the assertion during an interactive workshop on central government payroll adjustments and processing for comptrollers and human resource managers held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town over the weekend, conducted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) through the joint Payroll Management Team in collaboration with the Civil Service Agency (CSA).
The training, held under the theme: “Fighting Payroll Fraud”, brought together more than 100 government agencies and 350 comptroller generals of various government agencies.
According to him, the digitization process of the payroll will help make the payroll system more transparent, and will also help to avoid dual payroll; something he added will help the government control its wage bill and save more money for other developmental activities.
He intimated that the government will prioritize biometric identification, head count or physical count, verification of staff, automated payroll system, processing and automated attendance system to help fight payroll frauds in government agencies in the country.
Mr. Wreh pointed out that the government of Liberia had 73,000 employees on payroll when the President Weah took over in 2018, but added that they have managed currently to reduce the government employees to 68,400 employees on their payroll, adding that it has helped the government to control their wages bill.
Director Wreh further disclosed that the over 350 comptrollers who are participating in the payroll awareness workshop will learn new strategies on how to avoid payroll frauds and present their payroll within limited time, instead of the normal longer time they take before presenting their payroll.
Also Speaking, Civil service Agency Director James Thompson welcomed the move by Mr. Wreh and his team, adding, it will help address some of the many challenges that they are faced with in identifying fraud in government payroll.
He added that in 2019, the CSA instituted payroll reforms at government agencies and worked to eliminate the dual payroll system which he said has been affecting the Civil servant payroll system.
Thompson said over the past time, a single person would use the government’s weak payroll system to enrich themselves only because they have control over the manual payroll system; something he said has been affecting the government gravely.
Meanwhile, Mr. Thompson noted that the new digitalization payroll policy that is expected to be completed before the next budget year will address all the problems that they are going through.
Director Thompson lamented that in 2006, the government wage bill was 30 million United States dollars but that in 2018 the government wages bill dropped by over three hundred thousand United States dollars.
He disclosed that the payroll digitization system that Mr. Wreh and his team are carrying out has helped them to identify the total number of people on the government payroll and compensation list, adding that the management system that they currently have over the payroll will help them clean up the payroll.
Also making remarks, Deputy Minister for Budget at Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Madam Tanneh G. Brounson, buttressed the statement from her colleagues and expressed excitement over the initiative.
Madam Brounson noted that it will help the government save more and control their wage bill, pointing out that the digitalization of the payroll will stop people from unilaterally placing their families and relatives on government payroll, something which she said has contributed to the increase in government wage bill.
She furthered that comptrollers and human resource officers making use of the training will also help deliver on time their payroll after the workshop.