The link between Records Management and Corruption
Do you believe that corrupting the system is made easier by inefficiency in records management?
Earlier this year, in a survey done by audit firm PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) on prevalence of economic crimes, Kenya was ranked as the 3rd most corrupt country in the world after South Africa and France. This article tries to elucidate the reasons behind the declining ability of Kenyan courts of law to effectively deal with most of the crimes that have been presented before them.
Kenya like Singapore gained independence from Britain more than 35 years ago. Fast forward to today and the thought that Kenya was once on the same economic level as Singapore, a first world country, is a clear indication that we went off the growth trajectory and have never found our way again.
Since independence, the second biggest cancer in the country has been corruption. With each regime, there has been several corruption cases that were never solved for one reason or another and ended in the demise of either the witnesses or the accused. The Goldenberg scandal, Anglo Leasing, Geothermal scandal, the NYS fiasco, the Youth fund rip off, not to forget the rampant misuse of funds by various counties are some of the biggest corruption scandals that have and still are plaguing Kenya.
There is however a common denominator that has the potential to change the verdict on these cases- documentation. Records are very vital in the prosecution of corruption suspects.
This article addresses the effect that proper documentation or lack thereof, has in the fight against corruption.
The documentation process in Government
From the memos most common in the 1978-1992 Regime, to the various circulars issued by oversight bodies among them the Public Procurement Oversight Authority(PPOA), the Central Bank of Kenya, the Head of Public Service and the new institutions like the Controller of Budget, there has been strict instructions on the rule of law and following the set guidelines.
One of the best bodies to have been set up by the government is the Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA), which if allowed to operate as well as all its guidelines followed to the letter, corruption cases in the public sector would dwindle considerably and such would lead to a spill-over in the private sector.
The key component in all business processes and transactions is documentation. This defines a record. The absence of these is the start of improper business transactions most commonly referred to as Corruption.
ISO 15489, the International Standard on Records Management defines records as: “information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business”
Each process in a transaction has been developed under a policy guided by an Act. It’s from these that you derive a record. Any diversion of the same then distorts the records management and provides the organization with a near logistical nightmare when audits are done.
If documentation is available, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that there was a breach of the said guidelines and hence the transaction is illegal.
This would ideally be easy to handle if the processes and procedures manuals are updated regularly and are in line with the various Acts governing that body. The lack of strict guidelines and audits before any payment is made provides a loophole in the process.
The case of the missing record
Why do we always have cases of missing records in various government institutions?
Is it by design or our government has very poor management practices.
When the nation woke up to news that the documents used in the NYS tenders in a certain year were missing, there were calls for the boss to resign and even a thorough audit of the procurement process at the institution.
Who is to be held responsible for records disappearing?
What does the law say about responsibilities of records in government institutions?
Each Government organization has a department of records guided by two main principles:
- Access; usually defined as the availability of or permission to consult records and
- Accountability; which is the principle that organizations and individuals are required to account to others for their actions.
How is this possible in the public sector?
Guided by effective Records Management Processes and Retention/ Disposal Schedules (A document which specifies the length of time each type of record will be retained, and the applicable disposal action. The disposal action my take the form of preservation in closed records room, transfer to the National Archives or destruction if it is deemed to be valueless upon appraisal and completion of the required retention period), the government can achieve best practices in records management.
When a record disappears, it is a sign of a poor records management process as the end of a record is disposition, usually through archiving or destruction.
Each government body, with the exception of very few institutions, places the responsibility of public records with the office of the chief executive officer who is the accounting officer, who then delegates this responsibility to the records manager.
Section 49.1 (a) of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act empowers the Director General or anyone authorized by him to inspect the records and accounts of a procuring entity.
Was the Records Manager prosecuted?
In the right environment, any case pending in a court of law and stuck due to poor documentation presents a chance to have the accounting officer or the officer to whom the authority was delegated to stand trial for abuse of office and as an accomplice to fraud.
If there was implementation of guiding policies and procedures to the letter, the records manager would then be at a better position to bargain for a stronger role in the implementation of the best practices in Records Management.
Records Management as a means of combatting corruption in Kenya
Keakopa (2012), summarizes the propensity of the economic loss suffered by Africa from the evils of corruption as substantiated by the African Union and the African Development Bank, which estimate that it costs the continent US$ 148 billion each year, leads to a loss of 50% in tax revenue, increase the cost of African goods by as much as 20% and eats away 25% of Africa’s GDP.
Corruption cannot be thwarted without reliable records.
Poor recordkeeping practices hinder accountability and transparency of government institutions. Poor recordkeeping systems are a barrier to institutional, legal and regulatory reform; and anti-corruption strategies; poverty reduction and economic development (IRMT 2003).
Creating awareness on the importance of proper records management is the first step to empowering the civil service in the fight against corruption. The Records Management profession has been looked down upon as a low-key and unimportant career, yet it forms the very foundation of every business. It is only now that some organizations are realizing the value of proper record-keeping systems, yet this is not enough if we are to proactively fight corruption.
Most senior management officers are unaware of the risks posed to their organizations as a result of poor records management. What would be the effect on your organization if all the records were destroyed or went missing?
Lyaruu (2007) observes that accountability is critical to a responsible government and the foundation for accountability is well managed records. Laws, regulations, standards, best practice, policies, and compliance and audit mechanisms all provide records-based frameworks and opportunities for healthy societies and polities, Keorapetse (2012).
In conclusion, the role that records management plays in impeding corruption is very critical. This emphasizes the need to redesign national records management systems and build capacity in the area as a means of improving the nation’s anti-corruption strategy.
(Article done by Don Victor Simon, the Co-Founder and Team Leader at Records and Information Management East Africa. Simon is on twitter as @donvictorsimon and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback will be appreciated.)