Takunda Maodza Assistant News Editor—
A Government probe into the state of affairs at Hexco has confirmed that the officer running the national exams database is not qualified for the job, while several board members have no clue what their duties are. The Herald reported in February that Secretary for Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Dr Washington Mbizvo approved the appointment of an automotive precision machinist to oversee the exams database, an IT function.
Higher Education Minister Dr Olivia Muchena subsequently appointed a six-member team to probe potential threats to Zimbabwe’s higher examinations system.
The team confirmed that Mr Francis Taivavashe — who was appointed by the then acting director for standards development and quality assurance Mr Joyce Mbudzi — with authority from Dr Mbizvo, had no IT qualification as required.
It also said some Higher Education Examinations Council board members did not know their responsibilities.
The Hexco board comprises polytechnic principals, the director of the School of Hospitality and Tourism, two private colleges’ representatives, two ex-officio members representing teachers colleges, and directors from the ministry as ex-officio members.
Not only was Mr Taivavashe found to be unqualified, but he also placed the credibility of national exams at risk because he carried the database around on flash drives.
He designed, installed, operationalised and individually managed the database of all testing of tertiary students in Zimbabwe and it is unclear who actually owns the system.
Because no one supervised him, he could do as he pleased with the exams database.
“Mr Taivavashe is a qualified automotive precision mechanist identified by the then acting director to develop the National Examinations Management Information System (NEMIS) software. However, he does not possess qualifications in IT but has experience gained through training and exposure at national, regional and global fora,” the team said.
NEMIS started operating in 2012 and has been used in three national exams.
Previously, ICT officers at the Higher Education Ministry and the Hexco secretariat head office in Harare managed the database.
The team recommended that the ministry “approach the Civil Service Commission to approve (an) IT post within Hexco to bring normalcy to the operations of Hexco and the ministry at large”.
They also confirmed, as reported by The Herald, that procurement of NEMIS did not go through the tender process.
“However, Mr Taivavashe was paid US$2 000 which was called a token of appreciation. This could either have prejudiced Mr Taivavashe or the Government,” reads the report.
The team said it was not provided with some of the information it needed to thoroughly conduct its probe.
“No design and operational manuals for NEMIS were availed to the task team therefore the task team could not determine ownership of the NEMIS.
“The director (of) standards development and quality assurance should have design and operational manuals in both soft and hard copies as a security and back-up measure. Design and operational manuals help with continuity.”
Their investigations show that Mr Taivavashe had sole privilege to monitor and upgrade the system.
“It is recommended that the ministry develops and implements a succession plan for continuity, to instil confidence in the National Examinations Management Information System. There must be an audit trail of Mr Taivavashe’s entry and exit from the system which currently is not monitored giving rise to speculation that he can tamper with the database without anyone knowing,” further reads the report.
It was also confirmed that Mr Taivavashe was moving around with exam materials on flash drives.
“The task team noted that Mr Taivavashe was observed to move around with flash disks, being tools of the trade in IT business, for the purpose of upgrading the system and attending to queries. The above necessitates excessive movement from region to region where NEMIS is installed,” says the report.
“The fact that the system was developed by one person who is the only one with the authority to give permissions and passwords to access the database puts the system at risk.”
On the Hexco board, the team concluded that some “board members were not well-versed with their roles in the board” and recommended training for them.