Addressing concerns over government’s computerized accounting system due to the non-implementation of two modules, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh said last Thursday that the non-activation of these do not diminish the system’s ability to safeguard the integrity of transactions.
Prior to 2004, government’s accounting systems were handled manually. An assessment led to the realisation that the old system was dysfunctional and that there was need for a new one to better manage government’s business. The Integrated Financial Management Accounting System (IFMAS) was therefore suggested.
Pursuant to this, the Government of Guyana purchased the IFMAS software from a Canadian company at a cost of US$660,000.
The system comprises several modules, including an Expenditure Module, a Budget Preparation and Reporting System Module, Revenue, an Asset and Inventory Module, a General Ledger Module, a Purchasing Module and an Appropriation Module. The system went online on January 4th 2004, the minister says, although to date the Purchasing and Asset and Inventory Modules are yet to be implemented.
Recently, the non-implementation of the modules has been highlighted in various articles published in the Kaieteur News and these have triggered criticism of the government. Singh went for some time without addressing claims made in the articles but held a press conference on Thursday pursuant to promises by President Donald Ramotar last Saturday that he would hold such a press conference.
During the press conference, Singh, assisted by members of his staff, sought to discredit claims that the non-implementation of the two modules created avenues for the abuse of public funds.
Implementation in phases
Singh says it was never government’s intention to implement all IFMAS modules simultaneously. He said that IFMAS, like all other Information Technology systems is complex and required phased implementation.
The minister said that the managers of Guyana’s accounting systems looked at the needs and prioritised the implementation of IFMAS’s modules. As such, it was determined that several modules contained the core provisions needed to enhance the management of the country’s accounting systems and these were implemented in phases.
Singh said that four were implemented initially and another was implemented subsequently. Critics have however noted the 10 years that the government has already had and the fact that the system can only work optimally if all of the
modules are in place.
The minister’s statements were backed up by Deputy Finance Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Louise Bouyea. Bouyea told reporters that the absence of the two modules does not mean that the system will collapse or is inefficient.
She said that the implemented modules contain and operationalise elements found in the Purchasing and Asset and Inventory modules and so carry out some of the same functions. Meanwhile, Deputy Accountant General Jennifer Chapman acknowledged that the two modules have not been put to use and said that the system will not be fully implemented until this is done. She also said that none of the modules was redundant.
The minister suggested that though IFMAS comes with a variety of features, the non-usage of those features does not mean that the system is not optimised.
He further said that the company did not write software specifically for Guyana as was reported by Kaieteur News. The minister stated that the ministry obtained a standard IFMAS package, the same as other countries. The package, however, was later customised to ensure that its modules were aligned to suit Guyana’s accounting landscape and the customised aspects have been implemented, the minister said.
Other procedures reinforce IFMAS
It has also been argued that the non-implementation of the modules creates space for abuses, as has been highlighted in the Auditor General’s reports. The minister though, said that the fact that the Auditor General was able to pick up abuses and discrepancies is proof that the existing system works. He suggested that if IFMAS was as deficient as has been suggested, the Auditor General would not be able to identify and highlight discrepancies, caused intentionally and/or as a result of oversight, and prompt corrective exercises.
He also said that the system is guarded by several manual provisions including segregation of duties. He said that no system can prevent certain abuses from occurring, as is evident by the citing of discrepancies by the audit offices of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
While the minister admitted that the country’s financial management system will be further assessed to determine the relevance of other modules, he could not say when, if at all, these modules would be implemented. Once such a need is determined though, he said, upgrades will be made to IFMAS.