The Accountant General has admitted that implementing the new Integrated Financial Management and Information System (Ifmis) is a challenge due to lack of capacity among users.
Accountant General Jean Munyenyembe made the admission when she appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament to appraise it on delays in payments since the rollout of the new government’s electronic payment system on July 1 this year.
She told the committee that when the system rolled out, 428 out of the required 1 200 users were trained. She said 980 users have now been trained and the remaining ones will be trained in due course.
Said Munyenyembe: “It should be mentioned that the Accountant General continues to train the end users to ensure that they are properly trained to minimise errors in transactions that lead to delays in processing payments. We will prioritise procurement training.
“Currently, the Central Payment Office [CPO] at Accountant General does not have a backlog of transactions that have been submitted by MDAs and are waiting to be paid.
“All new payments are now being made within the stipulated period of 72 hours after successful submission of payments”.
She described the training for end users such as the Electronic Document Management System, among other technical training module, as cumbersome and attracts varied time frames based on the technical requirements per cadre.
The new Ifmis has paralysed public service delivery as all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are affected such that some are surviving on donor support to procure services.
At the Ministry of Health, for instance, suppliers are not being paid, ambulances are running dangerously due to lack of maintenance while fuel is being obtained on loan from service stations.
But Munyenyembe told the committee that the transition from cheque issuance to electronic funds transfer has also affected payments.
The committee has, however, faulted her office for not preparing users well in advance of rolling out the new system.
Committee member Ralph Jooma lamented that the problems brought by the new system are negatively affecting the economy as so much money is idle and in suspense accounts in commercial banks despite Reserve Bank of Malawi approving the funds
Another member, Ulemu Chilapondwa, claimed that the Ifmis is being used as a scapegoat to sabotage government operations, saying in simple terms the new Ifmis has affected the country’s economy because money is no longer circulating normally.
Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament chairperson Gladys Ganda said it was shocking that government went ahead to implement a technology without training or let alone conduct a pilot on transitioning from bank cheques to identify challenges and remedies.
In an interview yesterday, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani said the challenges affecting Ifmis reflect how government ICT projects are poorly handled.
He said the new Ifmis project is big as it does not only affect the Accountant General’s office or Treasury, but it impacts on the whole government machinery, including vendors doing various government projects and supplies.
Fudzulani said: “The challenges cited by the Accountant General are issues that we have been talking now and again such as capacity building, issues of streamlining processes within the government.
“This is sad because it is depriving Malawians of their own tax money which could have been used on medicines and other necessities just simply because we are failing to utilise a project.”
In the recently launched Malawi Digital Strategy he said issues of streamlining government processes are key.
He said it is sad that it is not happening and some MDAs do not have ICT facilities, wondering what the Department of e-government is doing on the issues.
A presentation analysis of the Ifmis shows a number of MDAs require more training for procurement officers to initiate transactions in the system, as a significant number of payments can only be made after procurement processes are initiated after raising Internal Purchase Requisition (IPR) and Local Purchase Order.
It was established during the meeting that some MDAs did not submit forms for user rights of procurement officers to be created in the system; hence, late submission of such forms has also contributed in delayed processing of transactions for MDAs.
The committee was also informed that the implementation of the interim electronic funds transfer solution was rolled out as a big bang without a pilot, as such, there exists technical issues that are continuously being resolved until the solution is stable.
The new Ifmis was part of the development partners’ recommendation to build trust in Public Finance Management, however, this means the country is yet to restore donor confidence in the system.