By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government unit charged with implementing its $30m digital transformation is 25 percent under-staffed and plagued by "numerous internal control deficiencies".
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in a withering April 20, 2018, report on the Ministry of Finance's Department of Information Technology (DIT), ranked it as having a "weak" institutional capacity that presented "substantial" risks to the goal of implementing Bahamian e-government.
The Department will lead execution of the $30 million IDB-funded project to enable online access to government services, but the assessment - which, in particular, rated it as "very weak" on planning and organisational capacity - raises significant doubt as to whether it can do so effectively.
"The main challenge for DIT is that they are significantly understaffed, and would need to recruit a mix of experienced and bright employees that are highly motivated to carry the mandate of the agency," the IDB assessment team reported. "The Department requires significant and ongoing training to meet current and future demands of the public sector.
"It was emphasised that DIT is significantly understaffed and not operating at full capacity. They currently have 68 staff members in their department, and for the department to operate optimally, the DIT head is of the view that 90 staff members would be required."
The Government, in its 2018-2019 Budget, has allocated $4 million to attract and recruit college graduates to the public service, as it seeks to upgrade the civil service's skills base and address challenges such as those identified by the IDB assessment of the Ministry of Finance's DIT unit.
The Bank's assessment found that while the DIT was upgraded from a unit to a department in 2012, with a mandate to oversee the Government's information and communications technology (ICT) strategy across the entire public sector, it was currently not fulfilling such a role. It also does not feature in the Government's annual Budget as a separate line item.
"To effectively manage the [digital transformation] programme, DIT would need to evolve into a technically strong agency, but its strategic and operational planning capacity is very limited due in large part to insufficient resources, including staff and training," the IDB said.
"There is a Strategic & Planning Unit within DIT, which is currently staffed with one person. The unit was designed to oversee ICT strategy across Government. However, it is not functioning as designed, as currently the role is occupied with tracking the status of DIT-related tasks and ministerial assigned projects."
The DIT scored just 46.75 per cent for overall institutional capacity in the IDB's assessment, with 'personnel management' the only area where it ranked as 'satisfactory' as measured by the Bank's standards.
Yet the assessment warned: "The e-government programe to be adopted by DIT is a major challenge for the institution, and will demand a new set of knowledge and skills. There will be a dire need for change management for staff in the DIT department, and in all divisions that will be connected to this programme."
Similar weaknesses were also identified with the DIT's internal controls and procurement systems. "With respect to the internal controls module, the interviews presented evidence of ineffective internal controls at DIT," the IDB assessment said.
"An internal audit was conducted for DIT last year indicating numerous deficiencies as it relates to internal controls. The audit also provided a number of recommendations. DIT has acknowledged their awareness of these recommendations but is constrained by limited staff and capacity, as well as political will.
"Internal control capacity is low, and is a persistent constraint in addressing governance issues. It is not clear what processes exist, and which need to be put in place. It was detected that there was no integration between systems, and DIT was not clear as to what IT-related purchases were being made by other ministries or agencies."
And, while the Auditor General had made recommendations to the Government concerning the DIT, "correction of the matters reported have not been effectively addressed as this is at the discretion of the financial secretary".
The report also referred to "major deficiencies" in government procurement policies, which were said to "vary" between ministries and departments. "There is a lack of formally defined processes and procedures for procurement and a centralised procurement unit," the IDB assessors said.
"At present there is no fixed assets register within the Government of the Bahamas, and therefore it is necessary for the executing agency to maintain proper records of all procured items and inventory. An e-procurement system of the Ministry of Finance is being developed, but at this time is not yet in operation. The operational date for this system is still undetermined."
The IDB report also warned that new cybersecurity legislation will be needed to support the Government's 'digital transformation', while existing laws relating to the Misuse of Computers, e-commerce and data private will also have to be overhauled and changed.
Given that the DIT has zero experience in leading IDB-funded projects, the report called for outside executives - including a project manager and evaluation specialist - to be hired for a newly-formed Programme Execution Unit (PEU). It added that supervision was required from the Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister's Office Delivery Unit, given the project's potential benefits for the Bahamas' 'ease of doing business'.