SYSTEM E DOWN! GABS: The Nightmare to Gov’t Service Providers

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SONNY SERITE

Four years ago, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo conceded in Parliament that just like any other ICT system, the Government Accounting and Budgeting System (GABS), occasionally experiences slow performance. Four years down the line the system moved from slow to “non-performance” as it recently stopped functioning altogether, for a whole month, making it difficult for government to process payments to service providers.
Individuals and companies that do business with Government have been severely affected by the system breakdown which resulted in late payments, negatively impacting their cash flow. A prominent businessman and legislator told this publication that the delay in processing of payment has affected his business to such an extent that his creditors have approached the courts demanding payment from him. The legislator says that this is understandably so, but he points out this is because he is not able to pay due to the constraints he is facing as he awaits government to sort out GABS and not as a result of choice.
An IT Expert who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity painted a gloomy picture about GABS, pointing out that the recent breakdown is just a hint of a much bigger problem still to come and that will have serious repercussions on the country’s economy. ‘‘You know there is a problem when a government system, as critical as GABS, breaks down for a whole month’’, he said.
Explaining how GABS works; the IT guru said that the process was flawed from inception. ‘‘They installed E-Business Suite R12.1.3  which was decommissioned in August 2014 when they were supposed to have used R12.2.7 which is compatible with government desktops’’, he revealed.  He said among the government departments that are going to be hit hardest by the GABS failure is the Department of Immigration because they use the same system at the borders. ‘‘They may be forced to operate with two desktops per employee because the upgrade they have installed on GABS is not compatible with the current government desktops used by immigration officials,’’ he warned.
He revealed that the current GABS has been proven to have been over 60% customization hence a direct upgrade is likely to cause failures that could result in loss of data integrity, process/workflow failures and severe performance degradation. Furthermore, future patches may also fail or become problematic to be applied as has always been the case thus bringing serious instability.
Accountant General Emma Peloetletse has however explained that the recent blackout of the system was due to the necessary upgrade on the system, aimed at increasing performance speed and to incorporate more features into the system. ‘‘We engaged Oracle International to carry out the upgrade to Java 8 and by Friday last week the system was up and running on our end’’, Peloetletse said in an interview on Monday.
The Accountant General advised that the problem was identified as being caused by the failure of various ministries to upgrade their computers to be compatible with the upgraded GABS. She said it was imperative upon IT Managers in government departments to make sure the computers are upgraded to catch up with GABS. ‘‘To give you an example, you cannot expect to access features such as Facebook on a sedilame phone hence the need for them to upgrade their desktops’’, Peloetletse said. The IT Expert consulted by this publication expressed concern with the approach,  in his view it would be wiser to change the GABS system to make it compatible with government computers as opposed to replacing and/or upgrading all government computers. ‘‘It doesn’t make economic sense to replace thousands of government computers when there is a more practical solution to the problem’’, he said.
Peloetletse has assured stakeholders that her department is working around the clock to keep up with the backlog.  ‘‘Let it be known that no customer should be turned back on the basis of the system failure’’, the Accountant General said, further imploring customers to report any officer who refuses to assist them manually in instances where GABS is down. Peloetletse expressed her disappointment at government departments who are not keeping up to speed with the upgrade on the Government Accounting and Budgeting System.
GABS was originally developed by to Oracle Corporation and Peloetletse has revealed that the company has sub-contracted a local company to carry out maintenance. This publication has however been informed that the contract between Oracle Corporation and the local company ran for only 30 days.
Four years ago in parliament, Matambo said consultations with the Ministry of Transport and Communications to ring fence all the financial systems in terms of servers and human resource in order to optimise performance of GABS were at an advanced stage.
Matambo  had advised that the slow performance of GABS did not always point to the capacity of servers but that in some instances it is due to issues such as power outages, network connectivity and bandwidth, which are dependent upon ministries and departments having to upgrade and to be provided with the requisite technology infrastructure such as computers, network points and requisite personnel.

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