Computer Accounting to Help CMAC Address Problems

The country’s largest demining organization says its new computer bookkeeping system will improve accountability and help clean up financial problems that have prompted several donor countries to freeze their funding.

“All the spending is in control” with the new system, said General Khem Sophoan, recently named director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

Overhauling CMAC’s accounting system was first discussed in early 1997. A proposal was written and approved in early 1998, two CMAC officials said. CMAC se­lected an accounting program designed by UK-based Sun­sys­tems and was set up in July 1998.

But for more than a year, the program was not used. The officials—one Cambodian and one foreigner—maintained parts of the system had not been set up properly, but they declined to comment on who was responsible for problems with the system.

The high-power accounting software, now being run through a final series of tests, will link all of CMAC’s departments, creating what CMAC hopes will be a system of checks and balances at the scandal-plagued agency.

If the procurement department shows 10 new trucks were order­ed, for instance, the assets department will show if 10 new trucks are in CMAC’s inventory. The UN Development Program, which oversees CMAC, will be able to monitor the agency’s transactions and records.

The main features of the program should be operational by early next month, officials said.

This is welcome news to the countries who pay for CMAC’s operations. The agency, which receives 95 percent funding from foreign donations, has had a hard time recently convincing donors that money is being well spent.

Last year the agency received $20 million from donors. But at least two countries are now withholding funds until substantial reforms are implemented, do­nors have said.

Representatives from several donor countries were given a demonstration Wednesday of the new accounting system.

“Obviously it’s a step in the right direction for accountability,” said Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader.

But the accounting system alone won’t cure the agency’s ills, Leader said. “There are a lot of steps that need to be taken by CMAC—they know that.”

The new accounting system will not be able to tell CMAC officials what happens to land once it is demined or whether CMAC crews are working on land they are assigned to demine—two recurring problems revealed by internal audits in recent months.

Richard Warren, who oversees the program for the UN, said the new accounting system is part of a restructuring in financial management at CMAC that includes monthly audits by the UN.

Now that the accounting program is running, CMAC officials are optimistic it will ease problems dogging the agency. “It will increase CMAC’s ability to convince the donors that it’s taking care of the money CMAC is given,” said a senior CMAC adviser. “It’s not sufficient in itself, but it’s absolutely necessary.”

But how well the money is being spent is a separate question that the new accounting program cannot answer, the official said. There is also little control over the veracity of the numbers being typed into the computers.

Most of the accounting work had been done on Microsoft Excel, a basic spreadsheet that can be easily altered with no record of changes. Officials say fudging figures will be much harder with the new software.

A main source of accountability, officials say, will come from the computerized “signature” that will accompany any changes made in the system. Each person who inputs data will have to sign on using a password.

“The system tracks every single change a person does,” the CMAC consultant said. “If it’s wrong data, it means the person has to justify why the information was inputted to the system.”

CMAC is also hoping the new system reduces human errors.

Bills will not be paid twice, and equipment will not be bought twice, he said.

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