To mark the implementation of an electronic payment system at the Public Revenue Office – inaugurated in mid-January by Blaise Louembé (photo), the former Paymaster General at the Treasury, who was appointed as the new Minister for Finance, Economy, Budget and Privatization on 7 October 2008 – Bull Direct caught up with Christophe Akagha-Mba, Senior civil servant in the Paymaster General’s department.
The Gabon Treasury has launched its ‘Monétique’ project, to implement a particularly innovative and modern payments systems solution. Can you tell us about it?
We have replaced all cash payments at Treasury counters with payments using a secure smart card. Our system covers all people who are eligible for cash payments from the Treasury: civil servants, students and pensioners now have 24x7 access to their accounts via cash-points or via payment terminals at counters located all over the country. They can withdraw the amount they wish and check their account balance or transaction history.
We decided to use MONEDIA, Bull’s turnkey payments systems solution, which ensures secure integration throughout the entire payments chain. It manages all the data exchanges between the EMV1 -standard smartcards, the cash-points and the servers. Every cardholder has been given a cash withdrawal card – delivered to them free – which features their photo and ID.
Now the system has been in operation for nine months, what is there to report back about this mini revolution in the way civil servants’ salaries are paid?
This project, which is so innovative in technological terms, has also succeeded in reassuring both the users and the government. Not only has it given a large group of people access to formal banking facilities for the first time, even though they may have been reluctant or simply excluded from doing so before, but it has also had an immediate impact on the quality of services delivered by the Treasury and on the confidence of the beneficiaries, as well as limiting the expenses and costs of processing and archiving data and files. The most obvious benefits are:
1. Faster procedures for paying civil servants. The new payments system has speeded up the procedures for processing and paying what is due. The recipients no longer have to wait until the counters are open to get paid. So fewer people are coming in late to work, and there are fewer students absent from their courses because they used to have to go to get their grant money during opening hours. Queues outside Treasury offices at the end of every month, jostling and other disturbances are a thing of the past.
2. Relieving pressure on Treasury departments. Now we no longer have various civil servants rushing to the counter offices to collect their cash vouchers. Let’s not forget that the number of users has grown five-fold in recent years, which was suffocating our departments, and all the more so since from 1993 onwards we started to pay pensions monthly rather than quarterly. What’s more, payment of university grants also went monthly because of the difficulty that students were having in managing their money. This increase in the number of times people were using the service put a considerable overload on our administrative services when it came to paying cash vouchers.
3. Improving security, for people and money. The first benefit: the new system avoids the problems that arose when people lost their entitlement slips. And the second: rolling out ATMs2 in the regions is gradually allowing us to stop civil servants from having to travel around the country to pay recipients: making it much safer for people and for money. In addition, there was a complex security process involved in issuing the 50,000 entitlement vouchers every month, to avoid counterfeiting. Electronic payments ensure that transactions are totally secure.
4. Moving towards an environmentally-friendly, zero paper system. The Treasury is faced with the challenge of archiving these documents processed every month on a 30 years timeframe, which represents a considerable amount of paper. Now we have a system that simplifies the administrative procedures involved and will gradually get rid of paper documents altogether: making it very environmentally friendly.
5. Ensuring modernity and performance. Above all, the new system will smooth the country’s cashflow, as withdrawals happen gradually over the course of the whole month. And finally, the Treasury will have more information about what withdrawals have been made, and sums left in the various accounts, which will eventually enable it to offer more carefully targeted services.
Do you already have other projects in the pipeline?
First of all, we are extending the roll-out of ATMs across the whole country, and we will equip offices that are not connected to the system with GSM electronic payment terminals, depending on the network coverage that the telecoms operators are able to provide across the country: tests are in progress at the moment.
We will be equipping the ATMs with digital fingerprint readers, avoiding the need to enter PIN numbers which causes problems for some groups of people, especially pensioners.
We are also planning to issue certain civil servants (credit administrators) with payment cards for small amounts of expenses such as buying gas or small items of office supplies, to avoid them having to pay in cash.
Finally, we are looking ahead to the implementation of a sub-regional inter-banking system, with the SMAC (Système monétique d’Afrique Centrale – Central African Payments System) project, which will manage all interbank transactions. This will enable banks to extend their operations at minimum cost, by benefiting from the infrastructures that the Treasury has put in place.
Bull is the prime contractor and systems integrator on this project. How has it gone?
We are very pleased with Bull’s solution and integration services, and with the technical expertise of its teams. We issued the invitation to tender at the end of 2006. Seven candidates responded to it. We very quickly narrowed this down to two, one of them Bull, who we finally appointed at the end of April 2007. Bull has a long-term presence in our country and a good reputation here. The company’s teams immediately started got down to work with enthusiasm on our project, and brought in their specialists based in the Ivory Coast, France and China to help. We were able to visit Banque Atlantique, who already used MONEDIA. Our own system went live in early 2008.
Bull provided us with a comprehensive solution, including:
- Hardware infrastructure based around a NovaScale cluster to guarantee high availability
- Its MONEDIA turnkey payments systems solution, which features the most up-to-date technologies, to EMV specifications to ensure future compatibility with banking systems, and provides end-to-end secure processing using Crypt2Pay, Bull’s high performance encryption tool
- Smart cards, personalized here in Gabon with a photo and ID information, so the holder leaves with his or her card already activated.
And we benefit from its local support in Gabon, something that was very important to us; close local proximity is really valuable in a project of this kind.
1 EMV : Europay – Mastercard – Visa
2 ATM : Automatic Teller Machine