22 July 2009

RIM Underpins Society

Last Thursday at Paddington Station, I had tea with Andrew Griffin, UK Director of the International Records Management Trust (www.irmt.org). Andrew had recently returned from Sierra Leone, the West African democracy only two years removed from a devastating civil war. Sierra Leone ranks dead last in the United Nations 2008 Human Development Index.

In Sierra Leone, Andrew is a ghostbuster. He advises the emerging government’s anti-corruption task force to rid the national payroll of phantom workers: deceased, retired, or fictional people drawing real salaries. Good records management discourages this kind of fraud.

The new government, led by President Ernest Bai Koroma, is in a race against time. It needs to build effective, functional bureaus that win the confidence of the citizens before drug cartels and factional forces exploit any state failures.

The state of records management in Sierra Leone is abysmal. You may be amazed to see the graphic evidence on a video at the Trust’s Website http://irmt.org/video_ghostBusting.html (You may be disturbed by the images of record mismanagement, but I predict that you will enjoy the reggae-inspired soundtrack.)

When I see the situation in Sierra Leone, I realize how absolutely foundational RIM is to society. Americans, for example, take for granted that their birth certificates, college transcripts, Social Security benefits, credit histories, and stock portfolios are safe, accurate, and accessible. But what if they weren’t?
  • What if I couldn’t prove that I was born in the USA and, hence, had a right to citizenship?
  • What if I couldn’t produce my academic credentials on demand
  • What if I retired from work but the Social Security Administration had no record of my earnings?
  • What if I sought a loan but my credit history had vanished?
  • What if my stock certificates – all held by my broker – disappeared?

These things do happen, but it is the aberration, not the norm, and there is often redress in court available in developed nations. Fraud and negligence are punishable offenses. And victims of bad records management often have backup systems or fallback positions to cushion losses.

In contrast, Sierra Leone’s annual per capita income is $530 US according to the World Bank and as low as $150 US by other estimates. Most families live on the edge of economic ruin, Griffin told me, and any interruption of income can be disastrous. Good records management stabilizes payrolls, starting with government workers. By reducing fraud, it ensures money is available for legitimate civil servants. The widespread poverty creates a strong incentive for fraud, so efforts to combat deceit must be similarly aggressive.

The IRMT, working with the government’s ghostbusting task force, already has saved over a half billion Leones (about $154,000 US) each month since February. The project identified over 600 ghost workers and retired employees still drawing salaries. Now the government can afford to pay 600 real people working for the common good.

Griffin reports that, although these are great achievements, the key has been “getting the records straight” and ensuring that there are up-to-date personnel records to maintain a clean payroll in future. “With reliable records and record keeping systems, and reliable data against which to audit the payroll, irregularities and fraud should be a thing of the past,” he notes.

Sierra Leone is just one example of the Trust’s vital work. Trust consultants have contributed their insights to 33 developing democracies in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. Several projects are reported, with accompanying videos, at the Trust’s Website. This is important work, contributing to freedom, peace, well-being and democracy around the world.

The IRMT addresses RIM needs in developing democracies in several ways. The trust’s work in education is, potentially, even more significant than its project work. But that is a subject for a subsequent posting. Stay tuned.

I invite you to share your comments and experiences.

-- Gordy Hoke


  1. I just read a fantastic short story collection - Brief Encounters with Che Guevera, by Ben Fountain - in which one story took place in Sierra Leone, during the civil war. Even those few pages were very difficult to read, so it's uplifting to read your account of the IRMT's efforts to help maximize efficiency in Sierra Leone's new government.

  2. The current president of New Jersey City University used fraudulent academic credentials to become president. But, in New Jersey, nothing can be done about it because the fraud was committed too long ago. It appears that there is a statute of limitations in regard to identifying fraudulent academic credentials and now that this president is a member of Governor Corzine’s Education Commission (where he helps identify fraudulent academic credentials) he’s now beyond prosecution.

    Google: “fraud at New Jersey City University” for additional details.