Amid reports of hurdles in government’s financial transactions, including salary delays, often attributed to technical hitches in Integrated Financial Management System (Ifmis), analysts have dismissed continued claims that it is the system that is the problem.
Rather, they say, it is people behind it.
Government started implementing Ifmis in mid-90s, according to information on the Ministry of Finance website.
Over the years, the system has undergone several improvements but generally, the system has been dodged with perennial problems despite huge capital injection to improve its functioning.
Now analysts argue it is not necessarily the system that is the problem.
Economic policy analyst Milward Tobias attributed the continued ‘malfunctioning’ of Ifmis to the integrity of people behind its operations.
He said it is due to lack of ethics and poor stewardship by civil servants entrusted to steer public finance management that Ifmis is seen as malfunctioning.
“We cannot have a system working elsewhere and failing in Malawi unless those running it in Malawi have decided to make it fail.
“This is an issue of lack of ethics and poor stewardship by those responsible to steer public finance management,” Tobias said.
A previous review report on the functionality of the Ifmis commissioned by the Accountant General revealed a plethora of problems such as weak and porous control regime.
The report also noted deliberate attempts by some public servants to disable the Ifmis to cater for the needs of ill-minded public servants in government.
Executive Director for Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Willy Kambwandira also attributed the problem to lack of integrity.
“The only way to deal with this problem and to see positive change on Ifmis is to ensure that the system is only managed by people with integrity. We know its people who are behind the poor performance of Ifmis. This is what we have been saying all along that Ifmis is only a system and that its performance and integrity is driven by people who manage it.
“We need to check performance and integrity of officers who are managing the Ifmis. We are worried about lack of transparency and accountability in public finance management when actually the new Ifmis could have changed things,” said Kambwandira.
Reserve Bank of Malawi spokesperson Ralph Tseka said the new Ifmis system is currently linked to the funding part where Electronic Funds Transfers (EFT) are made through RBM systems to fund various government accounts.
“Currently, testing of the EFT connection through RBM is underway and the current target live date is 8th September 2021.
“Otherwise there have been challenges making payments with the existing salary model since the file formats fail to upload at RBM, due to files submitted by Accountant General Department through NITEL [National Integrated Technologies Limited] that are not in sync with the required RBM formats,” he said.
Spokesperson for Treasury said the Ifmis and RBM have been linked.
“Government is now able to do electronic funds transfer where salaries are processed. All other payments became effective on 1st September,” he said.
Last month, Banda told The Daily Times that the new Ifmis is secure and web-based such that weaknesses that were noted in the old Ifmis will not been countered with the new system.
On Tuesday, at the launch of a road project in Lilongwe, Roads Authority Board Chairperson Joe Ching’ani raised concerns to President Lazarus Chakwera on delayed payment to contractors as a setback to completion of road projects.
“We are told that money is available at Treasury, but there is an animal at Capital Hill which has sat on the path of payments and the name of that animal is Ifmis. We are told it is a new Ifmis; hence, it is taking time to roll out.
“It is not our agenda to demonise the new Ifmis, but our puzzle is that, here is a technology which is supposed to make operations simpler, we are told it is an expensive technology and government is paying huge sums of money,” Ching’ani said.
On Thursday, Chakwera stormed Capital Hill to demand answers from officials on why civil servants are not being paid their salaries on time.
Chakwera openly expressed great displeasure at the delays in processing salaries.
The President also demanded an urgent report from the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) on the matter.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the main purpose of implementing Ifmis is to improve financial management in government with specific objectives being to control over expenditure in government, produce timely financial reports and enhance transparency and accountability in government.