[Opinion] The war of ghosts

Recently, the word war between Third District of Iloilo Board Member Emmanuel “Manny” Gallar and Maasin town chief executive Mariano Malones erupted and from which brought back into public consciousness the intriguing issue of “ghost employees” among offices of elected officials.

The issue alleged by Mayor Malones is that Board Member Gallar has engaged in contracting non-existent office staff and in time he will present a witness to substantiate his alleged accusation perhaps to correct the irregular practice. Newspaper reports that followed the issue hinted that the witness mentioned by Mayor Malones is no less than a relative of Gallar.

Insiders in the Provincial Government or even in local government units only knows too well what the issue is all about. Office staffing is a work that usually lodged in the table of responsibilities of the chief-of-staff of an elected official whether one is a board member, councilor, or even a vice-mayor and mayor, and it goes up to higher positions. The chief-of-staff who serves as the elected officials’ alter ego determines who among the persons listed are a priority for hiring including how long the contract of services will prevail and the scope of work and assignments inside or outside of the office.

Once the office of an elected official finalizes its list of staff and personnel, it is submitted to the office of the vice-governor for Sangguniang Panlalawigan or office of vice-mayor for Sangguniang Panlungsod, in case of LGU. These offices houses the secretariat that manages the sessions of the legislative body and what agenda will be included in the session. These are being deliberated by the body for approval and eventually for passage of a legislation.

It is in this process that the salary rate of the staff being hired are approved, hence, both the position and the salary rate for every position filled in are approved by the body. This will now serve as a legitimized list for the treasurer’s office to determine how much will be the budget to be prepared for every 15th or 30th of the month and who are at the receiving end of the salaries. This is listed in what they call a payroll.

In some LGUs, employees listed in the payroll has to claim the pay at the treasurer’s office because one needs to sign the payroll document as evidence that they received the amount. While other LGUs or provincial governments’ treasury office, deposits the amount in the bank account wherein employees claim salaries through the automated-teller-machines.

But to backtrack, before submission to the legislative body’s secretariat, the chief-of-staff recommends to the elected official the list and both of them decides who to hire at a particular period. In many cases, the chief-of-staff is responsible in drawing a formula of how much one would receive. Not all staff receives the same amount of salary because of the different levels of responsibility, scope of work, and accountability as far as work is concerned.

In government lingo, they refer to this procedure as “internal arrangement” which means that it is a confidential arrangement between the office and the person being hired.

This is the reason that in some cases a personnel who was hired with an approved monthly pay rate of, say, P18,000 only receives P1,000. Part of the consideration is the fact that one was hired without any work to do. He was only hired in order for the office to use his name and his legal documents for submission and approval. By doing so, one that agreed for this internal and confidential arrangement will be paid P1,000 a month. A gesture of his loyalty to the politician.

This procedure is what many refers to as the “ghost employee” scheme. One only reports, not to the office of the elected official, but to the treasurer’s office or at the ATM machine every payday.

Where then the remaining P17,000 per month goes? The person that withdraws this amount in the ATM or claims it at the treasurer’s office turns-over the amount back to the office of the elected official. Most of the time the chief-of-staff claims all the amounts from all the persons in the internal list and then turn-over the amounts to the official responsible.

One can imagine how much amount on a monthly basis an elected official will be able to gather if the official is allowed a total of 18 personnel while only five out of the 18 are fully functional and can operate the day-to-day business of the office. It can run into thousands for a year while millions in an official’s term of office.

This amount is on top of the monthly salary of an elected official and are cash that can be considered on board because it has been approved, legally released, and received. These funds allows our elected officials to fund solicitations and grant financial support to his constituents during wedding, burial, sportfests, fiestas, and all occasions that one would remember.

Outside the practice of their own professions and the salaries from their professional careers and as elected officials, these amounts likewise allows elected officials to splurge on lavish lifestyles; afford maintenance of a number of mistresses and “scholars”; burn the night away in casinos and in cockpit games and spend on expensive hobbies.

For somebody who is familiar with the workings of the provincial board member’s office and a chief executive of an LGU, Mayor Mariano Malones knows too well what his accusation against board member Manny Gallar is all about. It is without doubt that Mayor Malones has familiarized, if not memorized, the intricacies of doing internal and confidential arrangements.

While a single witness may not be a reliable resource person in the case against board member Gallar, the effort will put other board members into a similar scrutiny and with the possibility of their own enemies taking a bite out of the controversy.

The taxpayers might depend on the projection of trust and confidence that is being played up by politicians in public imaging. But these practices are very much inherent in our government; from the barangay, municipality or LGU, provincial level, up to congress and senate; the same internal procedures has prevailed over the years. Only the most stupid and naïve will dismiss such a fact and believe that all our politicians has embraced “Matuwid na Daan”.

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