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Opinion & Analysis

Graft war must start with IFMIS loopholes

Here is how I describe the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Nicholas Muraguri: Arrogant, boastful, with a preposterously inflated ego.

The man displays a blend of cockiness that should not be allowed anywhere near a government office.

The tragedy of it all is that the conversation between the principal secretary and Business Daily reporter, Stellar Murumba, was not some private off-duty conversation over a few drinks at a restaurant. Dr Muraguri was speaking in his official capacity as principal secretary.

The conversation between the PS and the reporter exposed the shallowness of support for Press freedom in the upper echelons of the Jubilee administration.

It is clear that when Dr Muraguri and his ilk say that they support a free and accountable media, what they mean-in reality- is that they want a Press that is only free to report the stories they want to read and view on television - and a media that is accountable to their own agenda.
I am an old-fashioned scribe and a firm believer in dirt-digging journalism.

I get excited when I see younger journalists like Ms Murumba keeping the flag high and maintaining the tradition of exposing things that arrogant and self-opinionated public officials like Dr Muraguri would rather have buried and swept under the carpet.

But the thing that should concern us most from the revelations of Ms Murumba’s story is the extent to which the computerised accounting system that the government uses- popularly known by the acronym IFMIS - has been turned into the nerve centre of corruption within the government.

The Integrated Financial Management Information System has become the most ideal enabler of corruption.

Ministry of Health officials were basically using IFMIS as a tool for money laundering.

We read from Ms Murumba’s story how shadowy shelf companies, some of which were not even tax compliant, were smuggled into the IFMIS system, allowing them to access hundreds of millions of shillings in irregular payments.

Ms Murumba’s story also reports how ministry officials manipulated IFMIS to effect fraudulent transactions and make illegal payments to several companies, including county governments.

Then there is the sensational case where hundreds of millions in grants to the Kenya Medical Training College disappeared into thin air. Records presented to auditors by Ministry of Health officials to justify the transaction were in conflict with the electronic trail within IFMIS.

When read together with the revelations in the special audit by the Auditor- General on the National Youth Service that exposed theft of Sh1.8 billion perpetrated and enabled by manipulating IFMIS- the inescapable conclusion is the following.

It appears that what we are witnessing are exploits of a tiny elite within the government that has mastered the game of manipulating IFMIS in order to smash and grab the public purse.

From the trends we see, it is a clique of individuals who collectively possess multiple passwords to enable them to complete transactions within IFMIS from start to finish.

It seems to me that once you are initiated into this exclusive club, you are given the carte blanche to create as many fake suppliers into the IFMIS system as you want and book commitments into the system without reference to anyone.

You are also able to generate fake LPOs and LSOs, book dodgy goods as received- note to purport to certify that the goods were received even when they have not - and finally, process and effect payments.

Clearly, IFMIS is dysfunctional. When you have a fully- featured Oracle E Business Suite, no single employee -no matter how senior- can complete all steps of a transaction from start to finish.

If you know how proper functioning systems work, you will be familiar with terms such as ‘‘flag for payment’’, ‘‘approve for payment’’ and will have heard of the principle of ‘‘segregation of duties and responsibilities’’.

Properly functioning systems would have prevented the crooks in ‘Mafya House’ from booking names of fake suppliers, fake invoices and double payments into the system.

Any serious assault on corruption must start with a thorough audit of IFMIS.

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