E-zwich could have averted alleged NSS fraud

A plan to pay all National Service Scheme (NSS) allowances on e-zwich cards could have averted the fraud that is currently being investigated by the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI).

The biometric smart card would have prevented impersonation and creation of ghost-names if the pilot project was extended to cover the entire country as intended.

Some officials of NSS have been arrested while the Board of the Service Scheme has asked the entire management to proceed on leave with immediate effect, with a few being recalled.

This comes after it emerged that the scheme’s Director, Alhaji Imoro Alhassan, allegedly attempted to offer a GHC200,000 bribe to security officials investigating widespread corruption in the national service scheme.

Ahaji Alhassan reportedly paid GHC100,000 in his attempt to silence investigators of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) to conceal a GHC7.9million financial fraud at the Scheme. The investigations became necessary following reports that a total of GHC7.9million was paid to 22,612 non-existent national service persons in more than 100 districts in July 2014.

While the BNI continues with its investigation, it has emerged that a pilot project that began in 2010 and covered about 17 districts, to pay NSS allowance on e- zwich card, has not been carried through. Instead, the number of districts covered under the pilot has reduced to 4 currently.

With payment of allowances on the e-zwich card, it would have been impossible for officials to pay monies to a different account and access it later.

This is because with the e- zwich biometric card all fingers of a cardholder are scanned during enrolment and the templates stored on the client-card. When performing any transaction, the e-zwich device whether an ATM or a Point of sale terminal, will demand the verification of the cardholder by comparing the fingerprint presented on the device scanner to any of those stored on the card.

When contacted the Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems, Archie Hesse, confirmed that the though the pilot programme is on-going, it covers less districts than was the case previously.

He said the decision to reduce the number of districts covered has nothing to do with GhIPSS, since it is only a service provider. He however said that payment of salaries or allowances via the e-zwich card is one sure way to clean the government payroll.

Mr. Hesse said the decision to pilot the payment of NSS allowance on e-zwich was partly to ensure that the monies went to the right persons. He said NSS’s inability to expand the project to cover the entire nation has not been helpful. He said GhIPSS has made various suggestions to the Scheme which are yet to be carried out. He hopes that payment of allowances on the biometric card will be revisited and expanded in order to ensure a clean and transparent payroll.

Asked about proposed plans to pay public sector workers’ salaries on the biometric card, Mr. Hesse said GhIPSS is pursuing that with the Comptroller and Accountant General’s Department.

The GhIPSS CEO said government would make significant savings on payroll- associated waste and fraud if e- zwich is used to pay salaries. “Its biometric nature and the fact that it provides an electronic audit trail for every transaction make it a great tool to fight the canker of ghost-names,” he stressed. Some people have complained about the difficulty in accessing e-zwich services, a factor that could be affecting its patronage. While admitting that some challenges do exist, Mr. Hesse said following a directive by Bank of Ghana banks are now compelled to offer e-zwich services at all their branches.

He added that since that directive it has been significantly easy to access the service. He said GhIPSS in collaboration with Ecobank and other banks are converting existing ATMs to be able to accept e-zwich cards. He also indicated that the current roll-out of hybrid Point of Sales (POS) terminals has also increased the number of outlets to use the biometric card.

Mr. Hesse said the e-zwich provides the country with a unique solution to addressing payroll fraud, adding that some private companies which are using it have uncovered fraud and made savings. He hopes the NSS will work quickly to extend payment of allowances on the biometric card to the entire nation, to save the country lots of money.

He mentioned that payment of student loans on e-zwich is expanding year on year, while government’s recent decision to pay beneficiaries of the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) on the biometric card, on a pilot, is moving on steadily.

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