Barnstone helps Zimbabwe’s Accountant General get back on track
Modern states require sophisticated financial systems to manage complex state finances and ensure that revenues are collected and expenditure is well managed. Zimbabwe’s drive to rebuild its finances was thus dependent on the fitness of its Public Finance Management System for the task—and South Africa-based Barnstone played a big role in helping to ensure Zimbabwe had the tools it needed to achieve its goals.
Beginning in 2007, the country suffered a period of hyperinflation with calamitous results on a number of fronts. One of the casualties was the country’s SAP-based Public Finance Management System: the number of zeros simply became too many for the system to handle, and it was switched off. Government financial processes abruptly became manual and paper-based, opening the doors to inefficiency and corruption.
In 2009, Zimbabwe began its slow return to financial solvency with the introduction of several foreign currencies as legal tender, the centralisation of expenditure and payment authorisation systems, and opening a new set of foreign currency accounts for the Consolidated Revenue Fund and line ministries at the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe. The government adopted the US dollar as its currency of record and reporting.
With some measure of monetary stability returning to the system, the next step was obviously to reintroduce the Public Finance Management System. Zimbabwe’s Accountant General and the World Bank were concerned to establish that the Public Finance Management System indeed up to the task. They engaged Barnstone to assess the system.
Barnstone’s assessment showed that the system needed reconfiguration and strengthening in certain aspects.
“Getting the Public Finance Management System fit for purpose was clearly vital to support the Minister of Finance’s programme for returning the country to financial growth and to support integrated budget control,” says Barnstone’s Conrad Steyn.
The World Bank obtained funding for the project, and Barnstone was engaged to provide technical assistance to the Accountant General from March 2010.
Aside from configuring, testing and taking live the general and sub-ledgers for the Central Revenue Fund’s cash budget, and accounting in multiple currencies with reporting in a single reference currency, the project included several other elements. These included a review and, if necessary redevelopment, of financial policies and procedures to support the reconfigured Central Reserve Fund on the system, plus appropriate training. The goal was ensure the uploading of clean data for the 2009/2010 fiscal year.
Barnstone was also required to review the IT infrastructure and recommend appropriate improvements.
Barnstone put a multi-skilled team on the ground in Harare for the full 19 months of the project to work alongside the Account General’s team. At the end of the period, the joint teams had investigated and documented the existing structures on the system, including the chart of accounts, and mapped the chart of account to enable the extraction of financial reports. In addition, Barnstone developed standardized report sets for each ministry.
The system was set up to handle multi-currency accounts with the US dollar as functional currency. Barnstone further developed several key financial procedures, such as the collection and recording of tax revenue and the accounting of salary expenditure.
Under the guidance of the Accountant General, Barnstone also cleared the backlog of uncaptured transactions and performed virtually all outstanding reconciliations.
A key part of the work was training all relevant staff, including top-level financial managers, in the new systems and procedures, and providing SAP transaction user training guides for all the processes on the system. These guides are available on the central server.
Finally, Barnstone conducted an audit of infrastructure to determine the needs for funding requests. Funding was in fact obtained for the refurbishment of two call centres plus the purchase of a range of equipment. Looking to the long term, Barnstone also drafted a plan for infrastructure improvement.
“Zimbabwe has already made good progress on the road to financial recovery, and that journey will be greatly facilitated by the Ministry of Finance’s far-sighted programme to ensure the right technology is in place to provide the necessary support,” says Steyn. “Barnstone was proud to be able to help make such an important project successful.”