Four ways to stop corrupt employees from stealing

Though there’s lots of attention on corruption in government, the private sector is equally affected by the vice

In Summary

• It boils down to recruitment and having the right structures in place

An employee adds up the value of bank notes
An employee adds up the value of bank notes

From waiters who pocket the money received from restaurant customers, to shop assistants who steal from the till. From labourers who sell farm produce without the owner's permission to construction workers selling cement.

Secretaries sell company stationery. Bar workers bring their own bottles of liquor to sell in the employer's establishment. Truck drivers siphon diesel to sell to matatu operators. Boda boda riders don't remit money to their employers. Cooks steal kitchen materials to take home. Employees of mobile phone companies sell customer data to hackers.

Each year, both big and small businesses lose billions of shillings because of crooked employees. Though there's lots of attention on corruption in government, the private sector is equally affected by the vice. It seems Kenyan workers are hopelessly corrupt.

A prominent tour and travel company in Kenya was spending lots of money overhauling the engines of its tour vans. Each time a new vehicle was brought into the fleet, it would shortly start breaking down and emitting blue exhaust smoke, as though it were several years old. This went on until directors discovered what was really going on.

Some of the drivers were taking company vehicles to a particular garage to swap the new engines for old ones and make money from the exchange. The reason why the tour company vehicles kept breaking down was because they were running on old engines.

Rampant employee fraud has forced business owners to spend money trying to prevent theft by employees. Salim Makutano, a truck driver on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, says his employer has fuel tracking systems that ensure every drop of fuel is accounted for.

"From his office, my boss can see exactly how much fuel is in the tanks," Makutano says. Furthermore, the tracking systems ensure drivers do not divert trucks away from the highway.

Indeed, ICT systems are a good way of monitoring how employees use the resources of the business. In restaurants, for example, software systems ensure waiters account for every plate of food collected from the kitchen. However, improper use of ICT systems, such as sharing passwords, can result in fraudulent activity.

How, then, can business owners minimise employee fraud?

1. Get the right workers: Know the people you are employing. Take time to carry out reference checks before giving someone a job in your home or business.

2. Clear policies: As a business owner, you must be clear on what is acceptable and what is not. An employee carrying home a pen is a minor issue, but someone taking away a laptop without permission is a big deal. Rules should be clear and anyone breaching them, including family members, should face the consequences.

3. Record keeping: Without proper records, you will not know how much money is getting in and out of the business. Neither will you know whether products are being sold or disappearing out the back door. Closely supervising your business will minimise employee fraud.

4. Encourage whistleblowing: Most cases of fraud are exposed by whistleblowers among employees, suppliers, neighbours and customers. Bigger organisations should have systems that allow whistleblowers to anonymously report suspicious activity.

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