GOVERNMENT officials are using their private email accounts for official communication, a situation that puts sensitive documents at risk of falling into wrong hands, Finance and Economic Development deputy minister Terence Mukupe has revealed.
“The issue of fiscalisation, information technology (IT) systems and everything, I have been in government for six months and the fact that I have worked for the best, I came from a situation where I worked in New York for the best banks and I know the kind of IT systems that they have got. You could literally lose your job if you were to use your private email,” he said while responding to questions from delegates attending the CEO Africa Roundtable discussion held in Bulawayo recently.
“There is no way you can have access to your private email given the sensitivity of information. I can tell you (that) as the Ministry of Finance, we don’t have emails. People use their private emails and it’s a practice that’s there within the whole of government where they are using private emails and I cringe every time that you can imagine how much in terms of sensitive documentation that’s all over the place.”
Mukupe said this was the reason why the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) and other government departments were immersed in corruption.
“So, if we can’t fix something as basic as that, no wonder why Zimra and the like have the issues that they have. I think you noticed last year around October-November where the Zimra system collapsed,” he said.
An IT expert, Farai Mudzingwa, said by using a personal email account for government business, it means that “your government’s official records are being stored on mail servers that are beyond your government’s and their IT department’s control”.
“They don’t know where the data is being stored and they have no way to back up the data, archive it for retention, secure it from unauthorised access, or dispose of it once the retention period is expired,” Mudzingwa said.
“In some countries (USA is one of them) it is actually illegal to use public emails for government. Sending official government communications through a non-government channel means that the government either cannot produce those records (or use them in their own defence) or they have to shoulder the cost of having someone search through your personal emails for official government records.”
Mudzingwa said a government may claim that they did not know about the records, a court may find that this was a failure to control government information and constitutes spoliation, which could result in colossal fines and sanctions.
“I’m not sure how valid this is for the Zimbabwe government, but it is a concern in other countries. Mostly, it’s a security thing. Government officials deal with sensitive information and the government would like to have as much control over that information as possible,” he said.
Another IT specialist who preferred anonymity said the use of private emails was perpetuating corruption.
“The use of personal email addresses doesn’t sound right in terms of corporate governance. There is no identity to pin me to an organisation that I’m working for,” the expert said.
Speaking at the same event, Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security minister Supa Mandiwanzira said government was rectifying the problem.
“It’s an area that does not fall under the purview of the Ministry of ICT. What I know is that the relevant government department responsible for that is taking measures in a robust and comprehensive way,” he said.