Reports can be fantastic pieces of literature. Absolutely wonderful things…informative, revealing, ridiculing, attesting – marvelous! More so if they happen to be government-funded.
Whenever political leaders are busy paying lip service, telling lies, denying allegations and generally being unpleasant to their electors (and those who didn’t elect them), a little bit of research can quickly reveal who amongst the herd is Pinocchio.
The report above which is a summary can be downloaded here: Summary of key findings and recommendations of GOM IFMIS Review-2. It is dated 18th November 2009, and is a summary of a Report commissioned to asses how the IFMIS was functioning. It is titled QUICK ASSESSMENT OF THE INTEGRATED FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM.
The original report (which I imagine can be obtained from the Public Financial and Economic Management section of the Ministry of Finance) is over 200 pages long (and don’t ask how I got my hands on it), but this summary is only 34 pages long. According to this summary:
As part of the continuous PFM reform processes in a bid to further enhance public expenditure management, the Malawi Government through the PSRMU of the OPC engaged the author through UltiNetS2 to undertake a quick impact assessment of the EPICOR* based IFMIS implementation with a core objective to identify any system operational or functionality challenges and make appropriate recommendations for improvements.
*EPICOR is the company that makes such software
In other words the report was commissioned to highlight the benefits and challenges of the IFMIS and ask questions such as:
(1) What is the IFMIS?
(2) Why was it chosen by the Ministry of Finance (MOF)?
(3) Is it working as intended / achieving its purpose?
(4) How well is it performing ?
(5) What are the problems / operational issues ?
(6) Where are these problems / operational challenges?
(7) What can be done to improve its performance/ resolve these problems?
… and so on.
At the time of commissioning, Bingu Wa Mutharika had been in power for some 5 years and 6 months.
Before we look closely at this summary, a notable point is somewhat appropriate: the version of IFMIS Malawi installed on its systems / computers is based on a version Tanzania installed. We all know that not too long ago, Tanzania’s president sacked his cabinet ministers due to corruption. Was this related to IFMIS?? I think someone needs to find out?
Earlier in 2006, the OECD Journal on Budgeting carried an article by Jack Diamond and Pokar Khemani titled ‘Introducing Financial Management Information Systems in Developing Countries‘ that explored the merits of the IFMIS system and looked at case studies in developing countries including those across Africa.
According to the OECD article, attributes of a well-designed FMIS include:
Yet if you take a look at the summary of the IFMIS in Malawi, it’s indisputable how hollow and a shambles the whole rollout was. Everything was dysfunctional, from the contracting phase to the implementation phase and support, everything was a disaster!
According to the UltiNetS Summary, the positives include:
– The successful implementation of the EPICOR based IFMIS significantly contributed to the debt cancellation for Malawi as a country under the HIPC initiative
– The implementation of EPICOR based IFMIS has to some extent assisted the Government in restoring some fiscal discipline through public expenditure management particularly on transactions that are primarily processed through the system.
– The introduction of EPICOR based IFMIS has significantly checked the proliferation of Government bank accounts by the MDAs* thereby giving the AGD* a better control.
– The introduction of the EPICOR based CPS* has significantly restored the credibility of Government cheque payments to its creditors.
*[AGD: Accounts General Department; CPS: Central Payment System; MDA’s: Ministerial Departments and Agencies]
Yet in spite of all this, we are then informed that:
– The conditions of contract were more in favour of the contractor (Soft-Tech Consultants) than the client (Malawi Government) which clearly shows that the client did not have much input into the document before engagement.
– There was no valid justification for the training to be conducted for almost the whole year and at every site of implementation, hence proved too expensive for the Government considering similar implementations.
– The IFMIS contractual costs are too high than anticipated (almost USD $1.7million) more particularly on the user licences, consultancy, training services and travel which account for almost 91% of the total cost.
– There was non strategic procurement of bout 240 system concurrent user licences for all 32 sites for all the modules when only a few of these licences are currently used.
– The EPICOR based IFMIS architecture, design and operational framework is incomplete to constitute an ideal Government IFMIS system design and operational architecture as it still falls short of
other key elements and full functionality of the sy stem.
In other words, the Malawian government has been using an incomplete and system that is not fit for purpose. The observations continue:
– There is a great deal of system underutilization considering the number of procured modules and other key features within the existing functional modules that are currently not functional.
– The system does not have any alert system to detect any fraudulent activities or any deviations to normal operations within the system such as overriding system controls without appropriate approval
process and any system performance issues let alone a functional audit trail to track system usage
If post-Cashgate you wanted to know why junior accounts assistants (see most recent revelations here) were found with millions of dollars, this is precisely why.
– The current Chart of Accounts is not yet fully GFS compliant as per the IMF requirement and does not fully respond to the performance measurement indicators of the current MGDS.
– From a budget execution perspective, the EPICOR based IFMIS system is working perfectly as a budget expenditure control system since no funding or expenditure can take place where there is no budget unless overridden, however the system does not block budgets that have already been expended to the equivalent of expenditures
In other words, a user can Overspend. In principle, this means that a user can generate a cheque and get the Reserve Bank of Malawi to honour it, even when on his budget, that money doesn’t actually exist.
– The IFMIS infrastructure does not have any intrusion prevention and detective system or mechanism to easily gain visibility and monitor any potential security threats considering that the access in mainly by user ID and password which can easily be accessed
So who can say whether foreign criminals haven’t laid their hands on some of this money??
– Some of key control features particularly in the payment management approval process within the IFMIS are not yet activated and functional to improve the entire system internal control framework.
– The current payments management system is weak and prone to exploitation or abuse by colluders as access into the system and Accounts Payable module in particular is not physically authenticated beyond normal user ID and passwords due to lack of appropriate tools.
Again, like above, misappropriation withing IFMIS is easy, so long as you have a username and password. And people could collude to steal money, so the Cashgate scandal should not be a surprise at all.
– The current core accounting system and financials suite of the EPICOR based IFMIS has an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) module which is more secure mode of payments which if implemented could help reduce some instances of cheque frauds and frequent delays in processing and dispatching cheques. In addition, it could eliminate risks associated with the MALSWITCH link used for cheque list transmission.
So they knew that there was cheque fraud happening? Or is this just a hypothetical situation?
– The current structure of the CPS within the EPICOR based IFMIS lack appropriate tools and effective controls for checking, verifying and authenticating or validating payment transactions within key units before issuing cheques or effecting transfers to third parties, hence difficult to detect any fraudulent payments from within the financial system. For instance the Receiving unit of the AGD’s CPO does not have any means for verifying the authenticity of signatures on the payment vouchers and electronic voucher list from the MDAs, hence difficult to establish any instances of forgery.
There was no capacity to check if signatures are fake, meaning forgeries could have occurred, or did occur?
– The NAO [National Audit Office] does not have adequate capacity to audit the EPICOR based IFMIS functionality apart from auditing the financial statements (‘ Appropriation accounts’) as it does not have automated audit management tools to enable carry out that function
– The NAO does not have adequate capacity in terms of man power and funding to effectively carry various types of audits covering automated systems.
All this advice was given to the Office of the President under DPP’s watch, when Mutharika was at the helm. Further the 2006 OECD report at page 19 / 115(last paragraph), states that:
In general, the implementation phase has not progressed well, primarily because of clearly limited involvement and some neglect of the system by the main players, including the Ministry of Finance, the Accountant General and pilot ministries. There are several significant issues to be addressed before the system can be made fully functional and rolled out.
Neglect?? That’s a strong word. When they received this advice, why didn’t DPP act? And if they claim to have acted, what did they do to solve the above problems? More importantly, when PP came into power, did they know of this report and its findings, given the fact that the Ministry of Finance is a crucial ministry in any country?
I think the Malawian people deserve some answers. Malawians need responsible leaders who will help develop the country, not a hopeless and clueless bunch who are only interested in self-enrichment…
Reviewing this summary, it is absolutely clear that the Ministry of Finance knew the dangers of the IFMIS and the fraud that was happening ? They must have known. There are no two ways about this. But they ignored the problems/ fraud, or took advantage of them. In my view, the silence / inaction suggests some people was benefitting from the mess. Clearly, Lipenga and his juniors were hopelessly incompetent, and Joyce Banda must take responsibility for bringing in such a useless man into such a respectable office.
It all simply begs the question, how can such massive amounts of money be embezzled when the inherent problems were known? Those responsible for the plunder must pay back what they stole…Every single penny! And face the arm of the law.
The fact that successive governments knew there was a problem, but didn’t act strongly suggest there was a conspiracy to defraud the Malawian people, such that our syndicate theory may in fact be broader and far-reaching than us ordinary folk think?
Why do Malawians elect incompetent officials who can’t even do the basics?