After a career working in offices that have always had computers it was huge shock to walk into a Finance Department that looks like this…
A big room with about 90 staff, one computer in the director’s office and 7 in the computer area. Although given some looked to be a good 20 years old and there was dust on them, I don’t think there were really 7 operational computers. So there are piles and piles of paper in the office. Cashbooks and enormous ledgers, which I have only ever seen in archives.
Looking through the Fixed Asset register also brings it home what reality is here. On top of the items I expect to see, there are pages of typewriters and Gestetner machines. If you need Gestetner explained, you are too young to understand…I vaguely remember them from primary school back in the 1970s. Their official government accounting manual was written in 1951.
Staff sit on wooden chairs, two to a desk, hidden behind piles of books. It looked promising when I found that monthly cashbooks were summarised into a computer database. But then I found the resulting monthly printout was handwritten onto a monthly schedule which was then handwritten into a ledger book (about 1 meter wide) About 90 schedules and ledgers representing the various locations.
I was constantly surprised about work methods. For example – the process of making bank transfers to other locations: You don’t hop on internet banking or go down to the local branch to arrange a transfer. No, finance write a letter authorising an amount for transfer and the envelope for the letter is then sealed with wax. The distant office takes the letter to their local branch to effect the transfer. Most people here don’t have bank accounts and the staff in this Ministry are still paid once a month in cash.
The GM Finance has a separate office as does the Director Finance. My translator and I were given the director’s office and the director sat out with the troops.
For 90 people – the office is remarkably quiet. At regular intervals through the day noise would naturally creep up, I didn’t notice – until a loud Shhhh was spread through the office – and silence reigned. I found out that each day people were appointed noise controllers (noise monitors was the term that popped into my head) Of course you could tell when the GM was coming back to the finance office by the level of urgent shhh shhh shhhs being made. And of course every so often there was the sound of a typewriter from the other end of the room – but I have to admit even though I heard it I never actually saw where the typewriter was – maybe it was obscured by paper piles.
On the desk of the GM there is a doorbell. When something was needed a ding-dong rang out across the Finance department and one of the girls closest to the GM office went in to see what was needed. The office had a small number of landline telephones, but they didn’t ring very often. Mobile phones were not allowed in the office and if you wanted a conversation you needed to go outside.
Usually the people would come to my office to answer my questions – places to sit for multiple people. When I went out the main office to ask a question of one of the staff officers, their section and surrounding people hung on my every word. When I learned a few local words they giggled each time I used them. Once I went to talk to one of the Staff Officers and she was so uncomfortable. It turned out she was embarrassed there was nowhere for me to sit. But they got used to me wandering up and asking questions and wandering away and they learned that I survived without needing a chair to sit on.
to be continued…