Prasa probe flushes out 1 480 ghost workers, database fraud

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula at the October Transport Month (OTM) campaign launch in Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula at the October Transport Month (OTM) campaign launch in Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 8, 2022


Cape Town - The preliminary investigation by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) into 3 000 “ghost employees” has shown that 1 480 employees could either not be physically verified or their files were non-existent, while others had resigned.

The probe also found a number of instances where ID photos did not match the faces of employees.

Now a forensic investigation will be launched into areas flagged in the investigation.

This was revealed by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula while responding in writing to parliamentary questions from EFF MP Noluthando Nolutshungu, who asked for an update on the investigation of the “ghost employees” found on the entity’s payroll.

In March, Mbalula told the standing committee on public accounts that a forensic investigation at Prasa had uncovered ghost workers during its internal campaign, “Operation Ziveze” (meaning show yourself) to verify employees.

The payment of the salaries to the “ghost employees” stopped in December last year and a forensic investigation was subsequently instituted.

In his written response, Mbalula said “Operation Ziveze” was launched to verify all Prasa employees after material irregularities were uncovered within the entity’s ICT, human capital management and payroll systems.

Mbalula said all employees were invited during the operation’s first phase on a voluntary basis to come forward to be verified with copies of their ID documents, qualifications, and the employee data forms.

“Out of 17 268 recorded employees on Prasa’s payroll system, 14 268 employees presented themselves for verification.

During the same period, 1 159 employees resigned,” the minister said.

He said failure by the 3 000 employees to come forward for physical verification led to suspicions that there could be a number of “ghost employees” at the entity.

Mbalula said an independent service provider was commissioned to establish whether the 3 000 were indeed “ghost employees” and to identify weaknesses in the Prasa systems, as well as identifying the culpable officials.

This exercise flagged 2 143 employees who were then grouped into four categories.

Mbalula said further investigations concluded that incorrect data capturing of employee information resulted in a corrupted employee database.

There were also weaknesses in the entity’s ICT systems and internal control environment, he said.

There was also evidence of collusion by officials within Prasa’s human capital management department, and threats against the safety of people working on the project.

Mbalula said the next steps included taking “urgent action” to address the findings and challenges identified to date.

He said a forensic investigation would conduct a “deep dive” on critical issues flagged in the preliminary investigation.

There would also be a digital fingerprint and photo ID verification process with the assistance of the Department of Home Affairs.

“The completion of the exercise will then enable Prasa to freeze the salaries of those flagged,” he said.

Mbalula also said there would be digitisation of files and supporting documents as well as a proper clean-up of the employee database.

“Employees who submitted fraudulent qualifications will be served with letters to explain themselves, failing which stricter action will be taken in line with the applicable prescripts.

“Criminal charges will be laid against those who have committed fraud, including the recovery of funds from those who left the organisation and are traceable through initiatives of the law enforcement agencies,” the minister said.

Cape Times