UNDP funded Parliament IT project in fresh controversy
Expert committee rejects AG’s report
by Shamindra Ferdinando

Controversy over the Auditor General’s damming report on UNDP funded IT projects in Parliament has taken a new turn with an IT Expert Panel appointed by the ICTA (Information and Communication Technology Agency) strongly disputing the audit findings.

The ICTA had been the consultants to the project.

The ten-member panel, in its 18-page report has pointed out that there was no basis for AG’s report which faulted both the House administration and UNDP for glaring shortcomings in the multi million USD project launched after the Oslo-brokered CFA came into operation in February 2002.

The panel comprised Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma (Senior Lecturer, University of Moratuwa), Prof. Gihan V. Dias (Senior Lecturer, University of Moratuwa), Dr. Prasad Wimalaratne (Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo) Wasantha Deshapriya (Director, Re-Engineering Government, ICTA) Ms. Thusha Mukunthan (e-Parliament Project, ICTA), Rajiv Ranjan (ICT for Development Advisor, UNDP), Mahesh Perera (Director Information System  Management, Parliament, Buddhika Nawagamua (Systems Engineer, Parliament) and K.O.D.D. Fernando (Deputy General Manager-IT, Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau) and Thushara Suraweera (Assistant Secretary, Presidential Secretariat).

The panelists said that the AG’s report based on the audit carried out by Eidikos Lanka (Pvt) Limited lacked clarity, contained inaccuracies and failed to meet its own objectives.

Authoritative sources said that the appointment of the IT Expert Panel was made on a request made by a Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Geethanjana Gunawardene, Deputy Speaker. Sources said the PSC which was tasked with exploring ways and means of maintaining and improving standards of the House scrutinised the AG’s findings.

Sources asserted that there couldn’t be a similar case where the Auditor General’s findings had been dismissed. The sources said that on the basis of the ‘new findings’ the House wouldn’t be required to act on the AG’s report.

The panel has held that the AG’s report failed to identify the progress of the UNDP funded IT projects. It also accused the AG of ‘misrepresenting the situation with inaccurate and misleading comments.’

Expressing its full confidence in the project, the panel, in its report dated December 27, 2007 has recommended the continuation of the project without delay. "We are of the view that the comments and substance of the audit report didn’t warrant or justify any substantial deviation from the strategy or specifications already evolved in this regard," the panel has said while calling for the setting up of what it called a rightful authority to carry forward the strategy speedily.

Subsequently, the outgoing Secretary General Mrs. Priyanee Wijesekera, who had been the Project Director of the grandiose project, delegated authority to her Deputy Dhammika Dassanayake. Although the Secretary General had been in overall in charge of the project, the second-in-command had been responsible for the implementation, the sources said.

In fact, Mrs. Wijesekera, in response to the ‘Draft Interim Audit Report’ sent to her in last June, fired back a letter to the Auditor General denying her involvement in the project. She emphasised that she wouldn’t take responsibility for the IT budget revision and implementation of the IT component of the UNDP funded project.

Following the rejection of the audit findings, the UNDP had signalled that it would agree to go ahead with the project. Earlier, the agency said that it would pull out of the project. Well informed sources said that subsequent to UNDP warning, the House had sought financial backing from an international lending agency.

The panel has strongly disputed the AG’s decision to employ Eidikos Lanka (Pvt) Limited to carry out the audit , on which his final report dated November 7, 2007 was based. The panelists said, "Firstly we bring it to the notice of the committee [PSC] that Eidikos Lanka (Pvt) limited which was chosen to do the audit by the AG Department consisted of a set of former employees of Ernest and Young, who were the consultants responsible for the system study, prepared the ICT Strategic Plan and developed the bid documents for Parliament." In an unprecedented attack on the AG, the panel said that they shouldn’t have been allowed to audit the project under any circumstances. "It is very unfortunate that AG has appointed and delegated the IT audit to a group of individuals who may not be neutral. This is a conflict of interest."

The panel also accused the AG of turning a blind eye to clarifications provided by Parliament, ICTA and UNDP to the ‘Draft Interim Audit Report’ sent to Parliament in the second week of last June.




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