On the National Youth Service scandal, the ball is now squarely in the court of prosecutors and investigators, who must provide factual information to support the high-profile prosecutions they have unveiled.
The prosecutions have cast a wide dragnet stretching from the National Youth Service (NYS) to the Integrated Financial Management System (Ifmis) at the National Treasury and the supplies department in the Transport ministry. The investigations must prove that the evidence they have gathered is enough to prove crime and to secure convictions in court.
In the court of public opinion, the NYS is a cesspool of corruption. But presenting evidence capable of securing convictions is no easy task.
Still, observers will be keenly following the impending court proceedings and the high-profile arrests made this week to see whether the investigations have gone deep in unravelling manipulation and abuse of the Ifmis by the NYS scammers.
On Monday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Noordin Haji, pledged to cast the dragnet wider to banks and look into the status of the reporting of suspicious transactions. He also said investigations would determine whether companies that have been receiving the NYS billions have been paying taxes.
For the first time, we are going to see Ifmis officials in the dock over corruption. Clearly, both Mr Haji and Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti, who have hardly been office for a year, have started on a good note in the corruption fight.
What is not in doubt is that the prosecutions they are presiding over will be going on against the backdrop of powerful undercurrents by well-connected suppliers lobbying in high offices to have their pending bills cleared.
There are NYS insiders who express the cynical view that the exit from the space of both the director-general, Richard Ndubai, and Public Service Principal Secretary Lilian Omolo is likely to lead to the unintended consequence of strengthening the hands of the ‘owed’ cartels.
PAID SH60 MILLION
I was left with a feeling of deja vu as I read the story of Ann Wambere Wanjiku Ngirita — the star performer in ‘NYS Scam Season II’ — accused of having supplied air to the agency and for which she was paid a whopping Sh60 million. This is why:
In 2013, the government of Malawi conducted a major investigation on fraud and weaknesses in its Ifmis. If you read the report by international audit firm Baker Tilly, you may conclude that the NYS scammers read the book.
A young fellow — the star in the scam — by the name Victor Sithole, was found with $300,000 (Sh30 million) stashed in the boot of his car.
The stories of Ms Ngarita and Josephine Kabura before her as well as Sithole offer a gripping tale on how corruption creates instant millionaires. There were other similarities in the Malawi and NYS sases. First, huge payments were going to relatively new outfits with no internet presence, low turnover and bank accounts that had zero balances before they received Ifmis-generated payments.
Secondly, very large withdrawals were being made from banks — suggesting that the persons transacting were mere fronts and, therefore, not the ultimate beneficiaries of the money.
Thirdly, there was widespread abuse of user access controls within Ifmis with cases where individuals were accessing the platform even when they were not in office.
The government in Blantyre had to complement by bringing in a leading software investigator to conduct a parallel investigation into their Ifmis after it was discovered that scammers had attempted to cover their tracks by deleting transactions within it.
Last week, the Treasury said that, from July 1, it will deactivate all Ifmis users to improve its integrity. That is a rare admission by the government, that Ifmis is, indeed, at the heart of corruption.
But merely deactivating accounts is not enough because the problems in Ifmis are deep-rooted. The system we have is based on Oracle E-Business Suite, an accounting package developed by Oracle of the United States.
Indeed, many corporations in this country — with many more complex transactions than the government — run integrated financial management systems.
The reason Ifmis is vulnerable to abuse is because what we have is a product of conspiracies between crafty rent-seeking software merchants and corrupt government officials that have ended up corrupting the system.
We have paid billions of shillings in inflated and ill-conceived customisation and re-engineering projects, ending up with a mongrel of the original software. If Ifmis is not sorted out, there will be many more NYS scandals.