On a recent visit to provincial treasury offices to learn about the Financial Management Information Systems, or FMIS, that members of our Governance teams helped introduce, the conversation turned to cows.
Staff compared switching from manual pen-and-paper to an automated state-of-the-art public finance management system as akin to making a cow watch television. Cows, they explained, are as unfamiliar with television as some treasury staff are with computers, the internet, and FMIS.
Fortunately, the relevance of the analogy was short-lived. Treasury staff have overcome the learning curve and the new system has proven to be helpful. I consistently heard praise about the system’s usefulness because it provides useful financial information, reduces the amount of repetitive work, and generates timely reports. That is a big change.
I spoke with Sivon Khemarun, the director of Battambang’s provincial treasury, and he expressed pride in having a system that’s up to the standards of developed countries.
There were other obstacles besides the learning process. The FMIS were installed at provincial treasuries in early 2016, yet went into full use just in January this year. Some treasury offices chose to run the new system in parallel with the older, paper-based method until the end of 2016 even though it led to twice as much work and delays in the processing of payment orders.
Today, the FMIS is working in all 25 capital and provincial treasury units, thanks to the Public Financial Management Modernization Project, an initiative co-financed by the European Union, Sweden, and Australia, through a trust fund administered by the World Bank. The project’s goal is to improve the public finance management by strengthening revenue mobilization and budget execution processes. The system is key in meeting this objective as it is capable of generating a wealth of information on the management and deployment of the government’s financial resources across an array of programs and projects.
There are issues that still need to be addressed -- additional training to ensure newly acquired skills stay fresh, acquiring more equipment such as computers and printers, as well as better collaboration with commercial banks and clients.
The second phase of the FMIS, whose financing will be supported by the European Union, will help the Ministry of Economy and Finance to address the remaining issues and to roll out the program to other government agencies.
The analogy of cows watching television may return, but not for long – a new era in the management of public finance in Cambodia has begun.