By Karl Smith
If you have been following the local news or the social media platforms, you might be asking yourself why is the General Services Agency (GSA) under the leadership of Madam Mary Broh, former President Sirleaf’s “no non-sense” director, cannot publish the list of all those who have not returned Government vehicles. Madam Broh gained the confidence of the former President due to the wonderful work that she did at the Passport section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Monrovia City Corporation, National Port Authority (Deputy Director) and now the General Services Agency. Many critics will want to argue regarding Madam Broh’s competences as it relates to her administration of the GSA by using the case of the missing vehicles as a yardstick. I am not going to discuss Madam Broh’s competences or her leadership style; however, I am going to discuss the power of technology and how it was ignored – in the GSA missing vehicle case.
I have heard lots of pundits on radios and social media platforms questioning the GSA for its lack of instituting a database system that will correctly and arguably have all Government assets recorded. By law, the GSA is responsible to keep inventory of ALL Government assets. Does the GSA have the necessary systems to have those assets tracked, registered, assigned, reassigned, disposed of, or even just for information purposes? The answer to that question is YES but that system is manual. A rough estimate predicts that it will take the GSA at least five (5) months to publish a list of all those who were given Government assets that have not been returned. The only reason it will take such a long time is because the entire process from start to finish is manual.
The Government of Liberia has refused to invest in technology and technological activities. In the case of the GSA and missing vehicles, a proper Government inventory management system would have been the answer to this problem. Every vehicle has a unique VIN number, the particulars of the vehicle should have been entered into a secured inventory management system which will generate a unique number and barcode that is then printed on the vehicle as it is being done now. That vehicle is then assigned in the system to a particular Ministry and the individual, to whom the vehicle is assigned at the assigned ministry’s or agency’s information is also captured. At any point, the GSA will be able to produce an on-demand reports to see that list of all those with Government vehicles and to which Ministries or Agencies they are assigned. The system would have also allowed the GSA to update the information of an individual once they have returned their vehicle. A comparative report would have been generated showing all those given government vehicles and those that have returned those vehicles.
The GSA could have adopted and implemented a Government Vehicle Tracking System. This system allows all Government vehicles to be tracked using GPRS or satellites. Someone will argue the cost of implementing such tracking system but if you look at the cost saving from such system, it offsets the cost to implement. Those high value vehicles should have had trackers installed in them. The cost to install vs the vehicle going missing as it is the case right now is night and day. We flagged this same issue during the EBOLA time with the ambulances that where brought in but it went unnoticed because the Government then were not prioritizing technology. Where are all those ambulances? Here we are today sending agents on the street to collect vehicles from dishonorable previous government officers whereas they could have been productive by doing something else. Whenever technology is IGNORED, predicaments are certain; it is just the matter of time.
The current administration needs to ensure that technology is not ignored as it was under the former President. With investment in technologies, wasteful spending will be minimized. Government can have a database for all approved Government vehicles, models, makes and prices; so that we do not have two Government officials procuring the same vehicle, the same time with a high price difference. If the Pro-poor agenda is to be successful, this Government needs to prioritize information communication & technology (ICT).
In my March 2017 article titled, “Technology Plan for Liberia’s Next President”, I argued that if this Government is to be successful, they must consider the top three high-level areas of focus: Technology Governance, Technology Infrastructure and Technology Services. There are so many Government ministries and agencies that are having the same problem as the General Services Agency and we should use GSA as a case study to fixing the problem. Just thinking out loud, can the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare give the public the list(s) of all approved drugs in the Country? Wishful thinking, but that is the reality. We are so manual in Liberia to the extend we become overworked, ineffective and corrupt. I am challenging those being appointed to consider automation as the way to achieving the President’s agenda. We should not be afraid of change; Liberians have demonstrated that we are not afraid of change, so the introduction of automated systems should not intimidate those who believe their jobs will be threatened.
Today we are discussing the GSA, tomorrow it could be Ministry of Education (MCSS) — do they have a centralized database of all students in public schools? The lists can go on and on and on and we will be here forever. There are some urgent steps we need to take: 1) We need to revise some of our existing laws to incorporate technology. 2) We need to train our people in the uses of technology. 3) We need to allow the subject matter experts to lead the discussion. 4) We need to give Liberian companies the opportunity to develop and implement these systems. 5) We need to monitor and evaluate these systems.
The case of GSA should serve as an eye opener to this new Government that technology adoption should not be restricted to one sector but all sectors across Liberia. The implementation of technology minimizes corruption, increases efficiency and promotes development. It is about time we invite the experts (Liberians) to the table for these discussions.
About the author:
Karl Smith is a seasoned IT expert who has spent years in designing, developing and implementing enterprise systems in Liberia, West Africa, Europe and the United States. Karl specializes in software development, systems architecture & design, cloud computing, quality assurance & management, infrastructure virtualization, project management (PMP & Prince II), network infrastructure design and implementation.
Karl is the Chief Technology Officer of MWETANA Consulting & Technology Group; Liberia’s oldest and proudest local ICT Firm. Karl is very passionate about technology in Liberia and his vision is to use technology to transform and contribute to the society in a meaningful way. Karl holds a Master’s Degree in Advanced Computer Science from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. He is also one of the founding members of the Information Communication Technology Association of Liberia. Karl can be reached via email at: [email protected]