On IFMIS budget errors, attack on counties unfair
| May 10th 2019 | 4 min read
When the story of rather alarming and obviously strange budget execution reports annexed to the Kiambu County audited financial statements first broke out, it was greeted with a chorus of condemnation.
But this din of recriminations masked deep questions about the much touted Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), the budget approval processes, the audit processes, and quick trigger condemnation that has come to characterize any analysis of counties. I shall examine each of these in turn. First, what is the matter with IFMIS?
A correspondence on Monday, May 6 to all County Executive Committee Members of Finance by National Treasury Principal Secretary, Kamau Thuge, confirmed that IFMIS, being the financial management system prescribed by the National Treasury, can generate, and indeed generated, incorrect reports. As could be expected he, however, laid the blame on the counties for “printing wrong reports.”
But his admission come rather late, because Laikipia County Government had already flagged errors generated by IFMIS as early as mid-last year. On August 16, 2018 the county government formally wrote to the IFMIS Director bringing to his attention the errors on the system-generated trial and balance and unaccounted transactions.
On January 11, 2019, the county wrote again, pointing out that the vote book reports (budget execution report) contained items “…that do not relate to Laikipia County.”
“Further some of the programmes and sub programmes do not have narratives despite having some huge figure in them.”
Indeed, in his response on February 22, 2019, the IFMIS director confirmed that there was a configuration issue under Laikipia County which resulted in the system generating erroneous reports, including a trial balance that was not balancing.
The Kenya National Audit Office was also immediately alerted about the errors in the system-generated reports. Why the Auditor General went ahead to annex and release the erroneous IFMIS-generated reports despite the alarm that we had raised remains a puzzle to us.
But I prefer solutions to recrimination. Now that the PS National Treasury and IFMIS director have confirmed that the system has generated erroneous reports, Auditor General Edward Ouko, who in the past has also publicly expressed doubts about the IFMIS system, should expunge the annexures and any conclusions derived from the audit reports.
IFMIS as currently configured generates numerous reports and chances of producing incorrect data are equally high. But it is potentially a good system that can be improved to avoid subjecting county governments, or any other user, to unwarranted public condemnation, ridicule and prejudice. It is rather unfortunate that this mess has emerged even as the IFMIS staff have been reaching out to Governors, as well as other senior government officials in a bid to promote the use of the IFMIS system.
The county budgeting process is rather elaborate, with many points at which scrutiny can and is applied. The county fiscal strategy paper for instance establishes the ceilings to be applied to all sectors. Not only is it subjected to public participation, it must be approved by the assembly. Then the budget estimates themselves are subjected to the same process. Once approved by the respective assembly, the Appropriation Bill must be signed into law and printed by the government printer. It is this budget that is uploaded to IFMIS.
The Controller of Budget approves every single exchequer. She does so by checking that the items which you are paying for are in the approved budget.
Faults in the audit process?
Staff at the Auditor General’s office have been running IFMIS reports which they eventually release before sharing and discussing them with the respective counties. Involving the counties before releasing of these reports will in future provide an opportunity to correct any errors in them.
I have had occasion to discuss the audit process with the Auditor General and some of his senior as well as operational level staff. My refrain has been the following: An auditor expresses her opinion on the accuracy, and completeness of my financial statements.
I have therefore questioned why the auditor would rely on third party reports to arrive at that opinion. Why? I am not in charge of that third party system. In any case, the auditor is expressing an opinion about my books!
The citizens across the country have been quick to judge and condemn counties that have fallen victims of this system error. That is why it is critical for the Auditor General to reaffirm citizens’ faith and restore their confidence in county governments and the idea of devolution, by expunging these erroneous printouts annexed to the audit reports and the conclusions based on them.
Mr Muriithi is the Governor, Laikipia County
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