Predictable CEPEP shock
NO ONE is surprised that the Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) is back in the news for all the wrong reasons.
But the claim, made on Wednesday by CEPEP officials before a parliamentary oversight committee, that the crash of a server resulted in the complete loss of accounting records for the years 2009-2014, is at once predictable and shocking.
Predictable because this is the path CEPEP has been on for a while now.
Over the years, and under successive governments, there has always been the perception that the programme has been little more than a make-work scheme that distorts the true nature of the labour market by ostensibly sopping up unemployment with unsustainable contract jobs.
While the private sector has complained about a lack of labour, CEPEP has been seen as a tool used by political parties to both reward grassroot supporters and keep them in line.
The programme, now under the management of a special-purpose company, has also suffered further reputational damage through association with questionable procurement practices and claims that it has seen underworld gangs get contracts.
Few expect to hear of robust accounting and auditing controls at such an enterprise, now falling under the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government, which itself oversees regional bodies that have reputations for being black holes into which state funds disappear.
What no one could have expected, however, is to hear of a state entity not only being vulnerable to a breakdown of its server, but also having no apparent back-up system and no hard copies. This, in relation to about $1.5 billion in funds under its purview in the period.
We have seen no evidence to question the integrity and competence of current CEPEP officials who have been given the unenviable task of answering for matters before them. Nor have we seen any evidence to malign the reputation of previous officials who held the reins.
However, Wednesday’s disclosure is so shocking as to be suspicious, as made clear by the reaction of members of the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee who immediately asked whether the incident was, in fact, due to sabotage.
Whatever occurred, it needs to be fully investigated, representing as it does a serious breakdown of control and accountability at an entity entrusted with about $500 million in funds annually.
It is little comfort that company officials are saying, today, that the breakdown will never happen again, unless we know, based on an independent examination, what exactly happened.
Meanwhile, it is critical that Parliament ascertains why this matter did not emerge at previous committee proceedings, especially since this very oversight committee has made recommendations about the exact same accounting period in the past. Too often, when it comes to this programme, has the country been misled.
"Predictable CEPEP shock"