Records Management in Government Agencies in Sierra Leone

Introduction

Records Management is the systematic control of all records from their creation or receipt, through their processing, distribution, organization, storage and retrieval to their ultimate disposition. Because information is such an important resource to organization, the records management function also includes information management. Therefore, records management is also known as Records and Information Management or RIM (Magnus, 2006).

Records management may also be used to define as the way official records (correspondence files, information) are organized in such a way that they have a meaning, and can be used continuously by the users such as managers, records professionals, educational institutions,

Importance of Records Management in Government Agencies

Establishing a records management programme, in government agencies for example, the Meteorological Department may result in both immediate and long-term importance to the department. Below are stated some of the importance of records management in the government agencies, civil service, companies and businesses as a whole:

• Records management reduces lost or misplaced records. Because the human element is always with us, even the best system in the world will occasionally have misplaced records. But properly designed document management systems can gradually reduce misfiles. Most often misfiled records can cost the clerical staff a huge wastage of time in searching for records;

• Records management act as evidence in the time of dispute. It is important for the settlement of dispute because it can be shown as proof in court;

• It helps in evaluating progress of organization. It helps in the preservation of history of the organization. The past records shows direction to organization. It helps in finding out the weaknesses and strength of organization. Records management gives the account of progress and direction in which organization is giving on;

• Records management is the memory of business. It is useful for future decision making process. The study of past records shows direction for future. It supplies information to organization whenever it is needed therefore, it helps in taking decision;

• Records management helps to evaluate business progress and performance. It helps in comparison between one period of time and another or between sometime of businesses;

• Records management helps in management and control of important records. It helps to protect necessary records with care and disposes useless records;
• To minimize litigation risks. Organization implement records management programmes in order to reduce the risks associated with litigation and potential penalties. This can be equally true in government agencies. A consistency applied records management programme can reduce the liabilities associated with document disposal by providing for their systematic, routine disposal in a normal course of business;

• It increases accountability. A records management will put in place a system for tracking actions on each record, therefore increasing accountability and providing access reports; and

• To improve working environment. Implementing records management programme improves the working environment through the organization of records and storage offsite. Organized working environment can then improve the perception of the business by clients and potential employees. New employees are also easily trained to manage the company’s records when an efficient records management programme is in place (Jackson, 2008).

The Historical Background of the Meteorological Department Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone was the headquarter (HQ) of the West African Meteorological services which was established in 1923.Meterological services were provided for four West African countries namely Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and The Gambia respectively. The Sierra Leone Meteorological department is an offshoot of the British West African Meteorological services founded on the 27th April 1961. Since the establishment, the department has been governed by series of directors and the presently director is Alpha Bockari who has served in this capacity from 2012-to date. The headquarter is located at F18 Charlotte street Freetown.

The Meteorological Department exist to provide cost effective weather and climate services by collecting, processing, archiving and disseminating meteorological and climatological information and services to support end user contributing to the management of Sierra Leone’s economy with special regard to protection of lives and property and safeguarding of the environment and recovering the costs of the services so rendered so that it expenditure will not exceed it income.

As a department under the ministry of Transport and Aviation, they are charged with the following mandates /responsibilities:

• Safety and well being of citizen and their protection against severe weather situation and devastation from natural disasters;

• Provision of reliable climate data to facilitates project design for agricultural planning and implement, water supply systems, infrastructure, and tourism;

• Contributing to the socio- economic (including providing end user services for agricultural activities, marine) development of the country;

• Carryout weather and climate related activities e.g. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Climate Change Services (CCS), Reduction of Emission from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and National Communication (NCS) (Meteorological Department, 2014).

Objectives of the Meteorological Department Sierra Leone

The overarching objective of the Meteorological Department established as the sole authority, which issues weather and climatological warnings and services are, to:

• Forecast, plan and deliver meteorological and climatological services which meet national socio- economic development needs.

• Collect, process, store and disseminate meteorological and climatological information both nationally and internationally in accordance with rules and practices and procedures established under the WMO Convention of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), etc and other relevant conventions of the United Nations systems such as the Frame work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and Convention to Combat Desertification, Drought etc.

• Provide a range of customer/ sector specific operational meteorological services to such major sub sector as those for aviation, water resources, agriculture, defense, marine, tourism, sports and recreation, and construction;

• Provides advice on meteorological and climatological matters to the national community and other governmental and non- governmental agencies.

• Develop adequate manpower to enhance functional effectiveness and efficiency of agencies.

• Reduce its reliance on the national budget and generate its own revenue by charging for services rendered to other clients;

• Arrange for and manage surface and upper air observation networks and accurately and effectively record the weather and climate condition for Sierra Leone’s economic development;

• Provides meteorological services for search and rescue operations during disaster and relief operations as well as during national emergencies; and

• Participate on behalf of Sierra Leone in the activities of relevance international organizations to which its belongs, in particular the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), World Weather Watch (WWW), Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW), Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Developments (ACMAD), United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) etc role in all climate change activities of the country (Meteorological Department, 2014).

Methods of Managing Records at the Meteorological Department

Records keeping are of great importance to any institution. One of the most crucial decision managers, directors or heads of organization have to make is to choose the suitable methods of managing their organization’s records. There of two methods that is significantly used. These include centralized and decentralized methods of managing records.

Centralized Methods

A Centralized method of managing records is the one in which all physical documents are located in one central location or office. The location is controlled by the records management office staff. The number of employees in the records department will depend on the size of the organization. In a centralized method, end users have the comfort of knowing all physical documents relating to a particular case are held in the same location. If for instance, end user needs to reference a file he/she would be required to contact the records office staff. The file would then be checked out to the end user. A complete claim of custody of file is captured, so the location of file is known at all times.

A centralized method has a heightened level of security. For example, the entrance is locked so only the records staff has access to the files in the records office. This process yields much more control over physical document than the decentralized methods. For efficiency of purpose, uniform office procedures are documented and circulated to all end user. These procedures address topics such as hours or operation, file request and delivery times.

Decentralized Method

A Decentralized method is one in which the physical documents are located across the entire office. This may mean they can be found in every staff offices or other work room space. Unlike centralized methods, where the files are controlled exclusively by the records office. A decentralized method is controlled by the staff that created the file. The physical files are stored at the employee’s desk not in a centralized location for all to access. Thus, the method would not require a full time record staff.

Employees would have access to their files at all times and would be responsible for maintaining accuracy. The decentralized method of managing records has its demerits. For instance, suppose group of employees are working on the same case at the same time suddenly, the employee who is responsible for maintaining the file is absent. The rest of the group may have trouble in locating the file if the organization does not have claim of custody procedure in place. Along the same lines, a decentralized method of managing records will have little or no security over files. This can prove problematic especially if an organization handles high sensitive cases.

However, in the meteorological department, a centralized method of managing the department’s records is adopted. That is to say, both physical and electronic or other records are centrally managed by the department’s office clerk. Although, there are challenges with regards to the keeping and managing of records, nevertheless the method is well utilized. (Meteorological Department, 2014).

Types of Records generated by Meteorological Department

The records generated by the meteorological department office plays a vital role in managing the operations of the department. The department documents past activities, phenomenon and events that serves the basis for further actions. The records are both manual and electronic in nature. Examples of manual records include:

• Office administrative records;
• Human resource records;
• Financial/ fiscal records;
• Meteorological data/ records;
• Material records;
• Public information records;
• Conference/seminar service records; and
• General programs.

Electronic Records: These electronic or machine readable records are data in a form that can be read and processed by a computer and that satisfies the legal definition of a record. At the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone these are records relating to divisions and out stations in the department and these include:
• Electronic mail and messages;
• Electronic spreadsheet;
• Primary data files and data bases;
• Machines readable indexes; and
• Word processing files.

Users of the Records at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone

The users of the Meteorological Department records in Sierra Leone include:
• Administrative personnel;
• Research/ external users;
• Human Resource Management Office (HRMO);
• Government ministries and agencies;
• International organizations e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Meteorological Organization (WMO); and
• Clients to which Meteorological Department information is given. For example, the media in Sierra Leone such as: Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), African Young Voices (AYV), and Star Television).

Filing System at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone

Filing System in Records Management is the process of classifying, arranging, sorting and storing records so they may be easily located and retrieved when needed. It is the classification and control of basic file groups, material collection procedures, file preparation, sorting, indexing, maintenance and cross referencing. A well defined and maintained filing system allows vital information to be accessed quickly and saves company money by saving time. Business, schools, government agencies and even every day, people use filing systems to keep their affairs organized. Thus, the following various types of filing systems may enable agency to carry out proper filing system efficiently.

Alphabetical Filing System

In the alphabetical filing system, records are arranged according to name that is from A-Z either the name of a person, company or subject in accordance with the letters of the alphabet. There are two methods involve in alphabetical filing system.The topical alphabetic filing system, also known as a dictionary system. In this system files, individual record are in alphabetical order. This filing system works well when storing a small number of records. It proves to be problematic when individual has a lot of client sharing the same name.The other method is the geographical filing system; also know as encyclopedia or classification system. This system is used to organize larger volume of records. It groups subject together under broad categories based on a location such as a city, country or state. The categories and the files within each category are arranged alphabetically.

Numerical Filing System

In the numeric filing system, numbers are assigned to each file and arranged the numbers in segmented order. Files of people with the same name won’t have duplicate headings as with the alphabetical system. This system also offers better filing confidentiality since names are displayed in the files and work well when handing a large volume of files.

Terminal Filing System

In the terminal digit filing system also, numbers of assigned files are in sequential order but filed according to the last two digits. For example. If an individual is filing number 18547; first the individual go to 47 section of the filing system then look for the 85 area of the section and finally look for the number one (1).

Alphanumeric Filing System

The alphanumeric filing system, both letters and numbers are used to organized files. For example, two letters are used to signify the client files in, followed by a number to denote his account number.

The meteorological department filing system, have adopted the alphanumeric filing system. In that record, they use the end-tab folder and pockets that simply stand on shelves and filing cabinets. No hanging pocks with a use of office space. The meteorological department has some challenges but the filing system is organized and use efficiently.

Records Storage Systems

Record should be kept in good order, in a secure location. Those containing confidential or personal data such as staff files must be stored in lockable units and should not be left on desks overnight or view of visitors. Only records which are required frequently should be stored in the office. Those which need to be retained for legal or other reasons should be stored offsite with the records office offsite, while those which have outlived their usefulness should be destroyed. However, records which are less than one year will not be stored offsite.

Storage systems used in records office most provide appropriate protection for records based on format and volume of records, how frequently they are used, how quickly they need to be accessed and security requirement. The main types of records storage systems used include:

Vertical Filing Cabinets

These are adequate for small filing systems, but are less suitable for large runs of records and records that require frequent access. Access is slow, since drawers have to be opened, and these can significant impact where there is a high volume of records activity. The cabinets require large amount of space and drawer space is often not use to full capacity.

Book Shelves

These are suitable for books or files that are stored upright, such as box files and lever arch files.

Lateral Filing Units

These have long drawer for storing files laterally and use space more efficiently than their vertical counterparts. Alternatively, static unit without drawer can be use, where files are stored in hanging pocket or cradles. Where prompt filing and retrieval are required open unit will be the most efficient. If file access is to be restricted, units with lockable doors or shutters can be used.

Mobile Shelving

This may be suitable where a large volume of records need to be stored near at hand, as it reduces the number of access aisles require. It is the most expensive type of shelving, and is very heavy. The floor must have sufficient structural capacity to support these shelves.

Open Shelving System

This usually found in large offices and in central file rooms, it allows for rapid retrieval and refilling. This type of lateral file, which resemble open book shelves allows files to be retrieved horizontally. It also offers full viewing of the folder tabs, which makes for rapid retrieval. And there is an estimated 50 percent saving space when files are moved from vertical system to an open shelve system. This unit usually requires professional installation, which can be negotiated with the vendor is an inclusion in the cost of the equipment. These are the most efficient kinds of files available. They also have doors and can be locked. Some of those with doors have flush backs and can be used as attractive room dividers with a built-in advantage of providing a good deal of sound- proofing. These doors and 6 openings are easily accessed over 200 inches of filing. Those without doors provide even more filing capacity and should be consider, even if there is a perceived need to lock them.

Records Storage Systems at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone

The main types of records storage systems used at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone is the open Shelve System which is mentioned above where files contacting records are usually found in large offices and in central file rooms which allows for the rapid retrieval and refilling. This type of lateral file, which resemble open book shelves allows files to be retrieved horizontally.

Records Retrieval at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone

Retrieval is the process of locating and removing a record or file from storage. It is also the action of recovering information on a given subject from stored data. It deals with standards and procedures in retrieving paper, electronic and image records. For example, finding a name and telephone number in a telephone directory or data base is a common storage and retrieval activity. Records or information can be retrieve in three ways:

Manually: people go to a storage container and remove by hand a record wanted or make a note of information requested from it.

Mechanically: a person uses some mechanical means, such as pressing the correct buttons to rotate movable shelves to correct location of a record, remove the record manually, or record information requested from it.

Electronically: a person uses some means, such as a computer, to locate a record. The physical record may not need to be removed from storage. The requester is informed as to where it can be found, or the information requested is showed to the requester in some way, perhaps on a screen in a data base or electronic mail file.

Request for stored records may be made orally over the telephone or by a messenger or in writing memo, letter etc. The request may be delivered in person, sent by mechanical, such as a conveyor system, or sent electronically by email. The record must be retrieved from storage and given to the requester quickly. Every minute of delay in finding a record is costly in user or requester wasting time and in filers searching time and could possibly lead to loss of money for the business (Stephens, 2009).

However, manual and mechanical procedures are normally utilized in retrieving records at the Meteorological Department since majority of their records are in paper based form.

Challenges facing Records Management at the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone situation in business of record keeping and management especially in the Meteorological Department system has not been too successful because of the lack of management component. Writing in support of the above finding, I have noted that many years of neglect had done great damage to meteorological sector and record keeping is not an exemption. The following are some of the challenges of proper records management faced by the Meteorological department in Sierra Leone:

Inadequate Funding

The problem of inadequate funding of records office in the meteorological department is more intensive than the other departments. This is a problem that was not only experienced during the colonial era but has passed on even to today’s records management programs. Payment of employee’s salaries, purchase of modern preservation equipment and chemicals among the other day- today activities that facilitates records preservation are vital activities that call for proper adequate funding to enable the institution to achieve its objectives are not quite seen. For this reason, the meteorological records office practice is abandoned with unqualified personnel thus suffering from inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Inadequacy of Space and Equipment

The records office at the Meteorological Department is rather too small to contain current and non- current records. The equipment used is somehow crude in nature and also of inadequate capacity. The record staff do not have access to modern equipment due to combine problem of inadequate funding and know- how technology.

Problematic Nature of Format

Most record materials are still organic nature, most of them been paper based. This means they are capable of aging, advancing, deteriorating with time. For this reason, they need equipment to be treated and handled with for the purpose of preserving them. For such a country like Sierra Leone which lies within the tropics such conditions are worsen by high level of humidity in the atmosphere and high temperature all around the year. All these conditions combine work to hasten the nature chemical process of decaying records. Furthermore, records keeping facilities in the Meteorological Department do not have weather control preservative where all weather conditions can be controlled to enhance record preservation thus, making the whole preservation process even more difficult.

Absence of Records Management Laws

The National Records act of 1964 is outdated and is no longer serving its usefulness. Records do not have legal description, backing or definition of their service. Legal laws provide for authenticity, which serves to promote and also provides confidence to the public and those practicing in the profession about the service being offered. These are the very important elements that the Meteorological Department’s record keeping facility lacks.

Lack of Understanding and Appreciation

The records management program in the Meteorological Department is rarely appreciated and its role in the provision and management of information understood by only a handful of staff. This is also true as it is the culture in many other public and private sectors that generate vital records on a daily basis have no basic understanding of records life cycle and requirement of the records disposal act. They are extremely ignorant of the vital role that can be played by the records office to help them properly managed and preserve record both at the current and semi- current stages. Staff is totally uninformed about the records activities and for this reason it is recommended that the records office should engage in programs that will help to educate staff and other users in the requirement and content of the activities.

Conclusively,Record keeping in an organization set up is very important and cannot be over emphasized. This is because continuity depends on availability of useful records of the past activities. In a complex organization like that of the Meteorological Department, it is not possible to keep every single information in the brain, because the volume of information is heavy, therefore records must be kept. In Sierra Leone, meteorological laws demand that every meteorological station should keep certain meteorological records such as weather fore cast data, personnel records, visitor’s book, inventory book, account book. Record keeping occupies a strategic position in the efficient and effective management of meteorological system. In fact, it is central in the administration of institution of learning because it document the planning and implementation of appropriate course of service allowing monitoring of work.

Unfortunately, the Sierra Leone situation in business of record keeping and management especially in the Meteorological Department system has not been too successful because of the lack of management component. Giving credence to this assertion, records management practice in the Meteorological Department has a number of problems as indicated above. By paying close attention to all these problems and addressing them one at a time we help solve the problems and enhance good management of records in the Meteorological Department in Sierra Leone.

References

Brochure of the Meteorological Department (2014). Freetown: Government Printing Press.

Jackson, Potter (2008).The Fundamentals of Records management. Kansas:ARMA international.

Magnus, king (2006). The Role of Records Management. London: Greenwood Press

Stephens, John (2009). Management of Records in the Private Sector. Toronto: Great Awards Publishing limited

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