HIT researcher develops app to automate local authorities Teererai Maposa

Sifelani Tsiko

Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

Harare Institute of Technology computer science and software engineering researcher has designed a new software application to plug loopholes and enhance the efficiency of internal financial and information systems for the country’s local authorities.

Tererai Maposa, a PhD student and researcher at HIT Innovation Hub said the goal of his new application was to help a number of local authorities that were failing to produce financial reports and were more than two years behind in final accounts and audits.

“Our software product called the Local Authorities Digital Systems (LADS) is designed to automate operations at local authorities,” he said.

“The development of LADS was inspired by the fact that most local authorities did not have sound financial management and accountability systems and were not optimally using ICT.

“Corruption and nepotism is the order of the day in councils, with double allocation of stands, maladministration and inefficiency in service delivery being the norm.”

Maposa said the new system enables the national Government to monitor overall performance, control expenditure and enhance financial reporting of local authorities.

“Several key modules have been developed and prototyped in a number of local authorities. LADS has been deployed to 53 councils so far. The results have proven that LADS as a concept and a local Government management software is possible and capable of transforming Zimbabwe local government system,” the HIT researcher said.

The LADS software system automates several local authority services such as financials, administration, engineering and technical services, land management, social services and artificial intelligence and links them to the national public financial management system.

The LADS system has software application called Instipark a smart parking solution, E-Musika for seamless revenue collection, Business Licensing for billing and receipting of licences and an Amanzi – Water meter reading app. 

At present, several local authorities face numerous constraints related to the automation of financial and management systems.

Maposa said local authorities lack home grown solutions and often implement and depend on systems developed outside such as Pastel (a purely accounting system) and Promun (South African based systems designed for South African local authorities.

“Over reliance on these imported systems has birthed new challenges for our local authorities. These systems are not compliant to the local regulations and expectations of the Ministry of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development as well as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development,” he said.

“Local authorities are forced to alter their normal way of operations so as to fit the system they are using because they are not customisable. The agents in Zimbabwe do not have access to the source code in case there is a need to alter something.”

In addition, imported systems have led to the duplication of duties across departments so as to compensate for the areas that are not fully covered by the systems.

“There is often a lack of integrity of the information produced since local authorities end up exporting and importing information from and into the system. The data is liable to manipulation along the way.” 

High purchase and maintenance costs of the systems have been expensive including unsustainable licensing and support fees which range between US$5000 and US$12000 a year.

“More so, the suppliers of these systems demand payment in foreign currency which is in short supply at the moment,” he said. “With LADs we can save foreign currency and even use the local currency,” he said.

“These systems lack vendor availability. If the system malfunctions, most of the time this support is not readily available. The local agents sometimes struggle to fully provide the required support to the frustration of the clients.”

LADS enhances inter – departmental integration and cohesion.

Most departments within local authorities are disjointed and each department implements a stand-alone system which records its own information and manages this information separately from copies of the same information in other departments which results in update anomalies.

“Update anomaly basically means that the same piece of information appears differently across departments because one department did not get the latest update,” said Maposa.

“This creates confusion within a local authority and also results in lack of trust and confidence from clients. For example, the accounts department may indicate that the owner of stand 001 is Mr Toddy whilst the housing department has repossessed and allocated it to Mr Mafi.”

LADS also enables the creation of an efficient debt management system for local authorities.

Most local authorities are losing millions of dollars in revenue due to lack of a robust and effective mechanism of managing and following up on their debtors.

LADS can help track debtors and enhance revenue collection mechanisms for councils. Most local authorities lack uniformity in terms of their operations.

“It seems there is no uniformity in local authorities’ operations. Each local authority has adopted its own unique way of operation. Each local authority has a different organogram and different departments.

“ This has made it difficult for the central government to consolidate annual reports. It appears as if each local authority has its own way of doing things which changes to conform to the prevailing situation for example. With LADS it’s very possible to enhance uniformity.”

It has a built in system that can enhance the uniformity of end of year final accounts reporting, stand allocation procedures, standardisation of the handling of the waiting list and the management of leases electronically.

“LADS is modularised which means councils can cherry-pick the modules they want to install and leave out those that they feel are not much of a priority,” the HIT researcher said.

A total of 53 local authorities have since adopted this system and its functioning very well. It is a vital tool for enhancing efficiency and management by local authorities.”

Maposa has named his start–up tech innovation company LADS Africa/Ndarama Tech Agency and its under incubation at the HIT Innovation Hub.

The researcher holds a BSc Hon Computer Science degree from NUST and MTech Software Engineering from Delhi Technological University India.

Currently, he is studying for a PhD in Digital Transformation at the University of Johannesburg. Maposa was a lecturer at HIT from 2012 to 2020 until he moved to the innovation hub.

Zimbabwe has established innovation hubs and industrial parks in various universities to be incubators for new ideas and science-based solutions that can help tackle economic challenges and spur the country’s rapid industrialisation and modernisation.

Innovation hubs established at all the country’s premier universities have helped reduce the country’s import bill through the production of goods and services locally.

“Innovation hubs have reduced imports, increased confidence in manufacturing and basically they have started a revolution of industrialising this country. 

“The ‘Nyika Inovakwa Nevene Vayo’ philosophy is emboldened with innovation hubs because those are our creations,” Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation Science and Technology Development Minister Prof Amon Murwira once remarked.

Most universities in the country now have vibrant innovation hubs which are at the forefront of cutting edge discovery and knowledge production ever since the country started the implementation of heritage – based Education 5.0 for the modernisation and industrialisation of the country.

Education 5.0 is based on five major components that include teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation.

Zimbabwe has 14 State universities and seven private ones, all with an enrolment of 121 571 students and 1 900 programmes according to the Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education.

It has registered a massive progress in education rank among the most literate nations in Africa.

It started with a literacy rate of 10 percent at independence and now the figure has improved significantly to over 94 percent thanks to the implementation of Zanu PF education policies.

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