The Public Education Ministry (MEP) has discovered it paid ¢60 million ($116,279) during the past year to “phantom teachers” – people who never taught a single class, but received salaries.
The ministry filed criminal charges against the six people who received salaries as if they were high-school teachers, as well as two ministry officials who have admitted they ordered the payments, according to the daily La Nación.
Both the officials have resigned and offered to return the money in exchange for a lighter punishment, Administrative Vice-Minister José Lino Rodríguez told the daily.
On, a 10-year veteran of the ministry, assigned a teacher’s payment code to her sister, who received ¢15 million ($29,070) as a result. The other official is a 24-year-old man who arranged payments for five residents, the daily reported. All the recipients live in San José.
Rodríguez said the officials entered the names and cédula (identification) numbers of the six recipients into the ministry’s system and assigned them salaries of up to ¢360,000 ($697) per month – the amount a teacher with 10 year’s experience would receive. They also included extra pay worth 50% of the salary for working triple shifts or directing educational programs, and made the payments retroactive: the recipients were paid six months’ back salary.
Once funds arrived in the recipients’ bank accounts, the officials changed the cédula number to 0 in the ministry’s system, and the recipient’s name to X, Rodríguez said. The discovery of these payments to multiple “X’s” and “0’s” allowed officials to figure out what had happened, and the codes ministry employees must enter to make a transaction allowed reviewers to trace the payments back to the two officials charged.
The anomalies were unveiled as part of a two-month process of manually reviewing all the ministry’s salary payments, Rodríguez told the daily.
He said no other “phantom payments” have been discovered, but it’s possible there are more because the system is “very weak.”