In a week characterised by service delivery protests, Johannesburg auditor general Terence Nombembe has criticised departments for their ineffective and inefficient records management.

At a media briefing this week, he said the situation had worsened and that it was leaving inefficiencies in its wake and was opening the government up to huge operational risks that had and could result in further threats to effective to service delivery.
With the government’s mandate to improve service delivery to citizens, department heads are leaving no stone unturned and as a result have focused their attentions at how their departments are managing their paper, information and record assets.
To date, the ineffective storage and management of these assets has led to qualified audits characterised by the loss of supporting documents, the inability to retrieve documents timeously, and intense client frustration.
“In our experience, when working with government departments, we can safely deduce that it is not always the fault of the departments that documents and records are not stored securely, and in some instances, stored at all,” says Peter McLaren-Kennedy, sales & marketing director at Metrofile. “The government does have very good policies and standards in place, however, questionable management practices, staff turnover and a lack of investment in their records management have led to this unsatisfactory situation.”
The volume of records that government departments deal with is enormous and in most instances, paper-based. Without proper management and the effective implementation of the government’s records management policies and standards, these records quickly become a mountain of paper that has not been properly filed, categorised or captured and therefore has become inaccessible.
According to McLaren-Kennedy, in many of the governments’ departments, the  filing is in such a disorganised state  that individual records cannot be retrieved. Records are often piled into rooms without any thought for, or adherence to government guidance or the need for retrieval, rooms that more often than not do not meet fire regulations or other standards for the storage of paper records.
“The challenge for government rests in the fact that in many instances, there is reluctance to or a lack of authority to outsource the management of their records. Many departments feel that despite the shortcomings of their current systems, that the private sector should not be involved, given confidentiality issues and the need to secure jobs. As a result, many sit with information that is no longer accessible or usable and which could have, in many instances, been destroyed (recycled),” he says. “Clearly, there is mistrust or a misunderstanding of how outsource providers operate and in particular, the skills they have to offer in helping these departments turn what is fast becoming a dire situation into a win-win for all.”