The Confederation of African Football (Caf) says it is using the suspension of football due to the coronavirus pandemic to complete outstanding payments for match officials.
In January 2018, Caf took over the task of paying match officials, which had previously been done by host associations, for its continental matches.
African football’s ruling body has struggled to keep up with payments since.
“It’s true that we have an important backlog,” Acting Caf General Secretary Abdel Bah told BBC Sport Africa. “We are taking advantage of this ‘calm’ period to clear the outstanding payments.”
The decision to take on the payments was two-fold in that it was, Caf said at the time, ‘to reduce the financial burden on national associations and eliminate the ethical challenge’.
It also came about after Caf President Ahmad, following his election in 2017, chose to increase the amount paid to officials from $750 to $1,200 per match.
Nonetheless, the payment process became fraught with delays, according to some referees.
“It could take up to six months to get paid,” one such referee, who requested anonymity, told BBC Sport Africa.
“We rely on football and refereeing has become so dynamic that you must work at it, including training daily, so when you get home and there’s no food on the table it is a concern for your family.”
In February, a PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PwC) audit revealed that Caf is in disarray with its work force ‘understaffed’, ‘overworked’ and ‘generally demotivated’.
Bah admits that the internal challenges added to the delays in remunerating match officials but says this is now being rectified.
“Our financial department was overwhelmed,” said the Moroccan, who assumed his role in March. “We have now recruited two new people and we still have three other open positions.
“Secondly, the internal processes were too (complicated) and we are reviewing them.”
The PwC forensic audit also revealed that Caf has been widely accustomed to making most of its payments in cash, meaning that the process to pay employees through their banks is taking time.
“This is one of the reasons there has been delays,” added Bah.
This process of paying through banks is particularly acute for the handful of countries under United States sanctions, which makes the transfer of dollars – Caf’s primary method of payment – to accounts in such nations near impossible.
Caf says that around 80% of the outstanding payments have now been settled and that they will have processes to ensure that officials are paid within 45 days by the time football resumes on the continent.
The referee who spoke to BBC Sport Africa has confirmed that payments are indeed coming through.
He credits the change to the role played by Fifa Secretary General Fatma Samoura, who worked with Caf as a ‘General Delegate for Africa’ for six months until the end of January 2020.
Her role was to help with the body’s reform process, focussing largely on improved governance within Caf.
“When Fatma came in, the process became smoother,” the official explained. “She streamlined by saying that the first corruption problems start when you don’t pay match officials. It now takes two weeks (to get paid).”
Last month, Caf suspended all its football competitions as the coronavirus outbreak, which has now reached over 50 countries on the continent, took hold.