YAOUNDE - Cameroon says it is suspending the payment of wages to 25,000 civil servants who it says may have died or left the country, but payments to whom continue to defraud the state.
Cameroon Finance Minister Louis Paul Motaze says after a census of employees taken in April, the government realized it was losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year to people claiming salaries as state workers.
Motaze says some had died but their deaths went unreported. Others had abandoned their posts, or were drawing double salaries with the help of fellow workers.
He says authorities have started removing such workers from the state’s payroll.
"An average of 310,000 people were concerned and after this census, we did not see more than 25,000. That means we are going to suspend them."
Motaze did not say how much money the government will save by eliminating the fictitious state workers.
Minister of the Civil Service Joseph Le says this year's census of state workers was very efficient because police tracked down some 8,000 workers who were living in Europe and America.
"You cannot continue paying a salary to somebody who does not exist. There are some who never work here in the country. They stay abroad and when it (the census) started, many Cameroonians came from abroad just to sign their presence here and [went] back. This should stop."
The government says some of the illegal workers previously lived in the country’s restive English-speaking regions, where fighting between government forces and separatists has killed nearly a thousand people.
This is not Cameroon's first purge of so-called "ghost workers." The country said in 2015 it was cleaning its payroll of 10,000 dead or fictitious employees, who cost the treasury some $12 million every month.
However, lawyer Akere Muna, founder of the Cameroon chapter of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, says corruption is widespread in Cameroon and targeting "ghost workers" will not entirely solve the problem.
'Cameroonian civil servants do not live from their salaries. They live from a system where they have put toll gates everywhere. You cannot get people who are thieves to look over thieves."
Muna said whistleblowing is the key to fighting graft, but that many people are afraid to come forward as they feel it is too dangerous or ineffective.