"Data is a public asset and anyone who handles data needs to have a sound concept of data integration and database use."
The Office of the Financial Comptroller General (FCGO) is a government agency under the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for the overall treasury management of the Government of Nepal. Being the treasury manager of the government, FCGO tracks government expenditure and revenue, compares it against the budget, carries out the internal audit and other public financial management related works and prepares consolidated financial statements of the government.
Mr. Anil Shrestha is one of the Deputy Financial Comptroller Generals at FCGO, who started his career in civil service almost 11 years ago from the Ministry of Home Affairs. During his service tenure, he has also worked at the National Planning Commission as a planning officer for more than five years and as a finance chief in the National Security Council for almost one and a half years. Currently, he is heading the Statistical Analysis Section of FCGO.
What is the existing data management system in FCGO?
FCGO does treasury management related works and is a specialized agency of the government. One of the key tasks of FCGO is to actively track and analyze financial records of the government. FCGO uses diverse systems and software such as the Revenue Management and Information System (RMIS), the Treasury Single Account System (TSA) and the Computerized Government Accounting System (CGAS) to produce and manage large amounts of financial data. Today, the TSA system is under operation in all the 75 districts and RMIS is under operation in 50 districts
covering almost 95% of the total revenue collection, which has helped in day-to-day tracking of expenditures and revenue.
FCGO strives its best to use the dynamic and efficient techniques for effective data management and utilization. Here, we focus on the availability, integrity, credibility and comprehensiveness of the financial information to produce analytical and reliable reports. For proper data management, there should be two types of manpower: business analytics experts and IT experts. In this regard, business analytics experts have to handle the business part of the data acquisition, data consolidation, analysis and reporting while on the other hand, IT experts have to facilitate this work by designing and providing appropriate IT software and systems. At the moment, FCGO lacks in terms of IT related technical manpower and we are planning to strengthen our data management team with statistic analysts as well.
How frequently do you make data accessible and available to the general public?
Our systems, TSA and RMIS record financial information in real-time basis and FCGO has capacity to produce daily status of overall government expenditure and revenue. FCGO regularly publishes daily expenditure and revenue status, which we compare against the annual budget on our official website.
Generally, our final reporting happens when the particular fiscal year ends. Once the fiscal year ends, FCGO collects, reconciles, consolidates, analyzes, and reports the financial information in the form of integrated financial statements which is then submitted to the Office of the Auditor General. After the final audit by the Office of the Auditor General, we publish a comprehensive Consolidated Financial Statement book, which can be found on the official website of FCGO.
However, we still believe that there is plenty of room for improving our data dissemination system to promote the overall accessibility and timeliness of financial data availability to the general public. It is our belief that data is a public asset and should be available to the general public on its convenience.
If you had to list the top challenges in terms of data management within your work, what would they be?
We can see these days that many agencies have developed variety of software systems and they are constantly producing various level and types of data. In this context, we are facing challenges while integrating these software systems. It is necessary to ensure accuracy, reliability, information dissemination, which helps to avoid the overlapping of data for proper data management. Most of our systems function in an isolated manner and are not fully integrated. Different agencies record the same data and information differently on its software system and most of the time it is not reconciled properly. The problem of data reconciliation in different system leads to frequent data contradiction. Therefore, ensuring data consistency between different systems is a challenge as data reports have their own limitations.
How is the “Nepal In Data” portal useful to FCGO ?
We appreciate the noble effort of Bikash Udhyami for developing and maintaining “Nepal in Data” portal, which is used by the general public. We all know that information has huge power and access to information brings empowerment to the citizens. It is a good initiative for a country like Nepal to have such an online data portal, where users can navigate data through a variety of sections. The “Nepal In Data” portal has also been one of the guideline for us to show data literacy in Nepal. Even in the current situation, it is very difficult for any user to access public sector data online. Therefore, “Nepal In Data” has made a huge contribution by making data more public and easy to navigate. Any user, who is interested in searching data, would be also looking for sources, time series and other graphical integration while using data. Therefore, the “Nepal in Data” portal has been a very useful platform to explore data.
How can the "Nepal In Data" portal make data available to a wider audience?
In the future, if the “Nepal in Data” portal identifies and fulfills the potential demand of users, it will have wider coverage and acceptance from the general public. We all know that how difficult it is to access data online. I believe that there is a huge demand of public data and fulfilling this with the right approach will certainly lead the “Nepal in data” portal towards achieving its goal. The portal offers credible, reliable, timely, variety, disaggregated, and authenticated information. A data portal is best when it is simple and when it is easy for users to navigate the data.
How do you evaluate overall data management and data literacy within the government?
To evaluate overall data management and data literacy within the government, there has been a huge positive transformation. If we compare the past with the current one, I am quite optimistic about the level of data literacy and its scenario for the present as well as in future for the Government of Nepal. Today, we have electronic data that we can club, process and refine it in any way that we want. However, in the past, the government of Nepal and its line ministries had a conventional style of data calculation and data analysis. If we have to evaluate the progress over time, then the data management techniques and data system have evolved in a positive way, and definitely have paved the way for the future. However, government bodies still face problems with software inconsistency and system integration. It is very essential for government line agencies and ministries to ensure that their database system functions properly in order to make further progress. FCGO has successfully been able to track the record of expenditures, banking and financial records, throughout the districts by using its advanced systems such as RMIS and TSA.
Gradually, the culture of database and software integration is expanding throughout the nation. Since different government bodies have to process large amount of data and the volume keeps increasing day by day. It is necessary to have proper data to increase data reliability. In Nepal, if we analyze our data system, then there is still a problem of data acquisition and consistency, which is essential for proper data management. In the context of data acquisition and consistency, it is also equally important for the wider audience to have an understanding on data.
Currently, we can say that the data management steps are fragmented and data consistency and data reliability can only be improved if we have our system on data management working under one umbrella. There needs to be systematic planning by all government bodies in terms of data utilities, management and consistency to contribute in further development of an overall data management system in Nepal. In addition, our IT system needs to be consolidated and more work needs to be done to improve their efficacy. Furthermore, private organizations and donor agencies should focus more on providing the technical support to the government for data management including the development of well-structured databases that ensures data consistency.
What could be the role of other organizations in supporting government in data management and consistency?
With the lack of proper data dissemination system, data cannot be easily shared with others for further processing and we are still facing data dissemination issues. For other organizations, it will be a huge task to initially organize the data according to source and structure it in such a way that it can be used for different purposes. For data communication, various alternative pathways can be explored. In this regard, communication with government agencies on data sharing and management is very important. It would be a profound achievement if such small data driven organizations and private sector partners could collaborate with government agencies, line ministries for data management, data consistency and dissemination.