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Role of records in public finance management

EPHRAIM Banda.

Analysis: EPHRAIM BANDA
ON DECEMBER 20, 2018, during the launch of the Audit Committee Hand Book in Lusaka, Secretary to the Cabinet Dr Roland Msiska urged controlling officers to focus on attaining zero audit queries this year by strictly applying the guidelines provided in the handbook including proper record keeping. Further the newly launched audit handbook, which is in tandem with the Public Finance Management Act of the 2018, aims at enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.
The newly amended Act applies to both central and local Government systems and to a great extent is expected to address the financial irregularities that characterise the Auditor General’s reports of misappropriation, misapplication or misuse of public funds.
However audit queries may not always arise due to misappropriation and theft of funds but also as a result of failure to manage records by spending agencies, this has been evident in the recent developments where some of the queries raised by the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) and the auditor general’s report came up because of missing records. In one of the PAC sittings, committee chairperson Howard Kaunda categorically cited poor record keeping as one of the reasons why some of the audit queries arose. He further urged controlling officers to put in place systems that will ensure records are properly managed.
The above scenario demonstrates the importance of records management in enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. The amended Act recognises the role records play in this regard as it has provided clauses that help to deter would be offenders of financial misconduct based on poor records keeping. The Act states that, a person commits an offence if he or she fails to keep proper records or conceals or destroys information that is required to be recorded.
Thus with this act in place, spending agencies, controlling officers and records managers must ensure that records management programmes are efficient and effective.
These must be guided by the public service records management policy and the registry service manuals which constitute rules and procedures that ensure that records are properly created, processed, protected, tracked and retrievable when required for audit and accountability purposes. Failure to produce records is not only unacceptable but an offence according to the amended public finance management act.
Although most government ministries predominantly generate paper based records, some have automated their operations. For instance Government in 2017 introduced an Integrated Financial Management and Information System (IFMIS) which is an Information Technology based budgeting and accounting system that manages spending, procurement, payment processing, budgeting and reporting for all spending agencies.
This incorporation of information technology tools eventually results in the generation of electronic records. These records require processing, just like paper based records, therefore electronic records management programs should be designed and implemented to accommodate electronic records as well as improving the capacity of records staff and registry units with skills and infrastructure to manage these records and make them available when required.
To further strengthen records management programs and reduce audit queries, there is need for legislation that provides for the management of current records. The public service records management policy indicates that, Zambia does not have any legal provisions for the management of records.
The National archives act cap 175 of the revised laws of Zambia 1995 edition is the closest existing law regarding records management in Zambia. However this law is limited as it only provides a framework for the preservation of records selected as archives.
The limitations of this law makes me agree to a critical review by Hamooya, C, Mulauzi, F and Njobvu, B, in their article titled, Archival Legislation and the Management of Public Sector Records in Zambia, in which they called upon Government to embark on a path to amend the National Archives Act to extend its mandate into the management of current records. Once this is done, it will empower the NAZ to adopt a more strategic approach to facilitating the application of international standards and best practices in public records management.
It is therefore a call for all ministries and government spending agencies to work closely with records management staff to ensure that all provisions of the public finance management act with regards to paper and electronic generated records keeping and public service records management policy, are adhered to.
This is the only way to prevent audit queries that may arise from failure to avail records requested for due to poor records keeping practices, which constitutes an offence in the new act.
The author is a library and information specialist.

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