Beyond the ghost employee scandal

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

We already know that ghosts have spooked the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the good news is that, under the leadership of BSP Governor Eli Remolona Jr., the country’s monetary authority has busted the ghosts that haunted its walls.

The two Monetary Board members involved have tendered their resignation.

Gov. Eli who, in his own words, was flabbergasted with what happened, said that the BSP is doing a post-mortem to make sure that a repeat of the fraudulent act does not happen again.

“We’re doing a post-mortem on this (to determine) what else we can do to prevent this from happening in the future,” Gov. Eli said last week at a forum hosted by the Tuesday Club.

As I said, Gov. Eli has risen to the occasion in leading the BSP at a time of crisis.

Not just ghosts?

While he’s at it, Gov. Eli may also do well to review some of the BSP appointments that happened before his term or during the Duterte administration. There may be real people on the payroll of the Philippine central bank, even if they’re not supposed to be, say BSP insiders.

Some insiders, now emboldened by the results of the investigation on the unprecedented ghost employee scandal, say there’s a lot more to look into.

For instance, they say, there were some people from a government agency with supposedly “doubtful qualifications” who joined the BSP before Gov. Eli’s time. Some of these individuals include young and neophyte lawyers who were given salaries equivalent to the pay of a deputy director rank.

Some officers and staff were also on secondment to another government agency but allegedly on the BSP’s payroll.

According to published rules of the Civil Service Commission, secondment is allowed for as long as “it is limited to employees in managerial, professional or technical positions.” The rules also say that the receiving agency is responsible for paying the salaries of the seconded employee.

Long time BSP insiders, including those who retired, know this and can only sigh in frustration.

After all, the BSP is regarded as a prestigious and professional institution.

As our BSP reporter Keisha Ta-asan said, the BSP is an attractive workplace for many because of its competitive compensation and retirement packages.

“The BSP attracts a large number of job applicants and competition can be intense. The hiring process takes months, sometimes years, before an applicant is accepted in the esteemed institution.”

Actually, this particular grapevine buzz was already going around during the Duterte administration.

Now that the ghost employee scandal has put the BSP in the spotlight, Gov. Eli’s post-mortem may uncover not just ghosts but real people as well.

As for the ghost employee scandal, the BSP should also check its hiring policies as implemented by its Human Resource Department. Have there been changes compared to the competitive process in the past? Has it been politicized or tweaked? Was the HR department aware of the existence of ghost employees?

The post-mortem may provide the answers to these questions.

I hope that for the sake of the esteemed ex-BSP governors and officials who steered the institution to greater heights and upheld its integrity, and for the sake of each and every former or current Philippine central bank employee who has worked hard and honestly to serve the public, such irregularities, if true, would be fully and finally addressed.

The BSP, after all, requires banks and its other regulated institutions to practice good governance.

As for Monetary Board members, everyone is eagerly awaiting who will fill the seats of the two vacated posts.

This early, the grapevine is speculating that a banker may be appointed. Or an investment banker or a former BSP deputy governor.

There’s a long line of aspirants, industry sources said, especially because of the hefty compensation and the prestige that go with the position.

Prior to the ghost employee scandal, most Monetary Board members, like statesmen of decades past, were considered the monetary sector’s gods of Olympus, because of their exemplary brilliance and competence.

What are the qualifications of a Monetary Board member?

Whoever will be appointed must have proven academic competence and independence.

It would be good if they have long and distinguished experience in central banking, especially on monetary policy which is the primary mandate of the BSP as well as in banking and in credit and payments systems.

While private commercial banking experience will be helpful, it is important to ensure that related party interest is not accommodated.

An international experience will also be an added advantage.

But most importantly, a Monetary Board member must know that public service is a public trust. They must have no administrative or court cases involving abuse of authority, corruption or use of public money for private gains.

Needless to say, they must be courageous enough to close an erring bank when it’s needed but not be so bold as to be willing to have a ghost employee, whether it’s for their own gain or someone else’s.

Only Marcos and his First Lady know for sure who will be appointed in the end.

But for sure, the two new Monetary Board members will be closely watched. They will spell the difference on whether or not the highest policy making body of the BSP would be able to keep its integrity and prestige after being spooked by restless ghosts.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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