‘Soft Tribe’ payroll ‘blackmail’ exposed

Business News of Thursday, 12 February 2015

Source: The Republic

Soft Tribe Limited- the Ghanaian-owned software firm managing a substantial part of Ghana’s payroll system is being accused by a cross-section of the public sector of scheming to force Government hands to extend the entire public sector’s payroll management system to it, The Republic Newspaper has gathered.

The company is reportedly acting in desperation since its 5-year contract to manage a certain aspect of Ghana’s payroll system (awarded to it in 2008 by the then John Agyekum Kufour-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration), is running out.

Some officials in the public sector, who spoke to the Republic Newspaper confidentially, are of the opinion that Soft Tribe was responsible for instigating the recent public discourse that sought to project a massive scam in Ghana’s public payroll system in a bid to make a case for the wholly Ghanaian-owned company to be given the entire payroll contract.

However, this newspaper is privy to a report prepared by the Ghana Education Service (GES) about a month ago to the Controller and Accountant General’s Department (CAGD), indicting SoftTribe’sAkatua payroll system of massive flaws that have led to huge leakages of revenues meant to pay GES staff.

Currently, Soft Tribe is responsible for managing the payroll of well over 200,000 workers under IPPD3, but the company is eyeing the entire public sector payroll which is mostly being run by globally acclaimed Oracle.

However, the report from the GES indicates that the Soft Tribe system, as has been implemented on GES payroll, has performed less than satisfactory. According to reliable sources, in most cases, Soft Tribe’s systems are unable to properly differentiate payment meant for individuals on different administrative levels of GES, leading to confusion in quantum of salaries paid to staff (described as ‘grade and level inconsistencies’).

Also, the Republic Newspaper gathered that the ‘Akatua’ payroll system is unable to distinguish a reactivated account from reinstated ones thereby leading to under and over payment of workers under the GES payroll, eg whilst reactivated account is expected to restore the data of a worker whose account has been dislodged on suspicion of it being a ghost name or the owner failing to satisfy business roll requirements of the Controller and Accountant General’s Department, a ‘reinstatement’ account is to reinstate the payment details of staff whose wages may have been temporarily deactivated for disciplinary reasons. However, the current ‘Akatua’ system has made no provision to distinguish between the two, hence leads to fundamental accounting errors on the GES payroll.

Also, the Akatua is unable to recognize change of names (through marriages or personal preferences) by staff on its system, a situation that has often lead to either double payment of wages, or a total scrapping of legitimate names off the payroll system.

This is said to have the potential of aiding shady officials who are privy to the loopholes to pocket some of these ‘floating wages”, as part of the broad phenomenon known as ‘Ghost Names’ in the payroll system.

These flaws notwithstanding, Soft Tribe is alleged to be “itching for more slice of the payroll cake’-as a reliable source at the GES told this paper. The company has reportedly secured loyalties of Civil Society groups such as IMANI Ghana, Occupy Ghana, and even the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) to make arguments in its favour, claiming among others that it is an indigenous company, and contracting it will save Ghana a lot of money in terms of contract value and a reduction in the leakages in the country’s payroll system.

The CADG is said to be unhappy with the level of contractual breaches allegedly done by Soft Tribe in a bid to make a case for itself. The company is reported to have leaked certain confidential documents to IMANI, Occupy Ghana and a cross-section of the Ghanaian media, as it tries to arm-twist the government to relinquish the public payroll contract to it.

The group arguing in favour of Soft Tribe, have enthusiastically been waving an alleged document indicating that the former Finance Minister, Dr. Kwabena Duffour was full of praise for Soft Tribe’s Akatua system, and apparently recommended his successor, Seth Terkper to adopt it.

“I have been musing over the actions of the Finance Minister disobeying his Predecessor superior’s directive to save Ghana millions of taxpayer funds in payroll fraud by transiting the payroll to a more stable platform,” IMANI boss, Franklin Cudjoe recently mussed on his Social Media platform.

In the said letter, Dr. Duffour is said to have written: “ Over the past 6 years, your organization has been running live payroll from the IPPD2 with numerous challenges. The IPPD3 was therefore procured in 2008 as a backup system. As it is now, your organization has two payroll systems, viz. IPPD2 (Oracle) and IPPD3 (Akatua) and it is my understanding that since the purchase of the IPPD3 it has been running in parallel on standby.”

The letter continues: “Given the current challenges with the payroll, I request that you give the IPPD3 on-site team currently running the live pensions access to run the live active payroll in its totality. To this end, please write to the vendors of the IPPD3, i.e., the SOFTtribe Ltd, and request for a comprehensive project roll-out plan for implementation. You are also requested to submit a monthly report from both the IPPD2 and IPPD3 with effect from this, June 2012.”

But current Finance Minister, Seth Terkper has insisted that he would not be brow-beaten into swallowing any payroll recommendation without addressing the basic issues causing the massive leakages in the popular Ghost Names phenomenon.

Rather, the Ministry of Finance prefers to adequately train the payroll human resources at the CAGD, Institute fool-proof verification mechanisms such as biometric and E-payment systems and identify and rectify the alleged loopholes in the already existing Oracle systems.

The debate on payrolls in Ghana has become extremely sensitive, with various interest groups trying to protect their turf. However, the policy think-tank, IMANI Ghana and the protest group-Occupy Ghana being allegedly sponsored by the NPP are at the forefront of this debate trying ‘desperately’ to pin the immense payroll fraud caused by the ineffective payroll system on the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government.

The two organizations- known for having strong ties with the opposition NPP – have given the CAGD an ultimatum on what they believe as an active payroll fraud being perpetrated by some powerful individuals with influence on the payroll system.

The IMANI boss, Franklin Cudjoe has threatened to expose the Controller and Accountant General’s Department over what he describes as an incriminating document he has intercepted about the country’s payroll system, saying the intercepted documents showed that the country lost huge sums of money through the system in a manner, which was “orchestrated and well planned.