Saturday, March 2, 2024

FIA conducts part of its business offline to evade hackers

A government department flush with cash doesn’t believe that even the sturdiest, most beautifully constructed firewall can protect it from hackers.

That is what assessors from the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) found out when they visited Botswana in 2016 to conduct an on-the-ground assessment of money laundering and terrorism financing risks in the country.

“The Financial Intelligence Agency and the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) use secure channels for exchanging information, and protect the confidentiality of information exchanged or used,” says the assessors’ report. “Disseminated reports are only delivered to LEAs upon authorisation by the FIA Director. The FIA’s senior officer in the monitoring and analysis department hand-delivers the disseminations to another senior officer of a relevant LEA and they both append their signatures in the FIA’s Reports Delivery Register.”

FIA’s method of handling highly sensitive information is interesting given what another government department is insisting upon. Ahead of next year’s general election, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced plans to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) which will be bought from a directly-appointed Indian supplier. The machines have already been budgeted for in this financial year. IEC has rubbished claims that EVMs can be hacked into, at one point arguing that the machines don’t use a computer system. Conversely, FIA is more inclined to the view ÔÇô held even by IT security experts ÔÇô that any computer can be hacked into and to avert such disaster, requires its officers to use a tried-and-tested stone-age method to protect highly confidential information.

It turns out that FIA has not been able to avoid the fiscal curse of other government departments that came before it. At the time of the assessment, it was sitting on stacks of cash it had failed to use: “The FIA is funded adequately by the government of the Republic of Botswana. The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning indicated during the on-site visit that the FIA was even failing to utilise all the allocated funds for a financial year.”

The Agency, which began its operations in 2014, has a dedicated unit responsible for undertaking core functions that include monitoring of transactions. Since then, it has been receiving suspicious transactions reports from the banking, money value transfer services, bureaux de change, and insurance sectors, with 91 percent of them filed by banks. It has direct access to the database of the Department of Road Transport and Safety for details of vehicle ownership, and government payment systems relating to salaries, procurement and other issues. Upon request, FIA gets further information from the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Botswana Police Service, Botswana Unified Revenue Services, Ministry of Lands and Housing, Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property Authority, Registrar of Deeds, and the Department Immigration and Citizenship. It also monitors the media for investigation leads.


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