New financial system should not be allowed to collapse

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AS I SEE IT

 

POOR service delivery has always been an issue that has haunted the government of Lesotho for years.

Suppliers have complained bitterly that they are paid late.

Some say they only received payment for their services after six months creating problems for their businesses.

It’s a nightmare trying to run a business with debtors that are as old as 150 days.

I have no doubt that some companies have had to close shop because they did not have the capacity to sustain such a huge gap in their cash-flows.

That some companies which rely on government contracts have managed to get this far is indeed a miracle.

As I write some chiefs have not received their allowances because there are problems in the new programme — the Integrated Financial Management Information Systems (IFMIS) — that the government has introduced.

They are not alone. Civil servants, who get their salaries through cheques, have not been paid as well. If this is not a crisis, then what is it?

The new system replaced the old Government of Lesotho Financial Information System (GOLFIS) which was dumped because it was easy to manipulate for nefarious activities.

It was said that GOFIS was the root of the problems relating to contractors and suppliers not being paid in time.

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane said IFMIS would make it “easier for treasury and the office of the auditor-general to meet their legal requirements”.

Yet instead of solving problems IFMIS has wreaked havoc in the government payment system. The system has caused despair across the board.

Some civil servants were skipped from the salary schedule while others received their salaries late. Government employees blame IFMIS for the delays.

The system triggered total chaos.

It has caused real grief, frustration and anger.

This week Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and cabinet ministers met at a local hotel to review the implementation of the new system.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief the prime minister on the operations of the system.

Mosisili was not happy with how the new system is working. He said it was clear from the numerous problems bedevilling the system that the Ministry of Finance was not ready when it switched over to IFMIS in April.

He said the delay in effecting payments to suppliers was a clear indication that the government had rushed to implement the new system.

“Why did you launch it when clearly you were not ready and are we getting our money’s worth by paying the consultants who are assisting Lesotho with the implementation of the system?” Mosisili asked.

His questions are genuine and his anger justified.

I cannot understand why a programme that the government started preparing to launch in 2007 could encounter such teething problems. Surely two years is long enough a time to prepare for a launch of a mere financial system. This does not mean however that the new system is all evil. It has its advantages.

For example, unlike the old system, IFMIS does not allow department heads to file orders without funds.

It allows government ministries to control their expenditure.

Members of the steering committee responsible for the implementation of the new system say the problems are due to lack of training on how to apply it.

IFMIS should not be allowed to fail especially when the system has been implemented successfully in other African countries such as Tanzania and Botswana.

The government must quickly address the problems associated with the new financial system.

There is a lot of discontent associated with the new system.

It is within the government’s interests to resolve whatever problems are associated with the implementation of the new system.

In its present state IFMIS appears to be one huge problem that needs to be sorted out and sorted out now.

As the prime minister said on national television this week, however good the new system may be it cannot be useful unless it is well understood.

Previous governments have been dogged by a perception that they did not care about service delivery.

Governments stand and fall on the basis of their promises to the electorate on the issue of service delivery.

Voters can punish politicians who fail to deliver.

The issue of service delivery is an election issue for the next election in 2012.

Basotho demand better services.

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