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CQIA Certified Quality Improvement Associate

Computer Delivered – The CQIA examination is a one-part, 110-question, three-and-a-half-hour test and is offered in English only. Of these questions, 100 are scored and 10 are unscored.Paper and Pencil – The CQIA examination is a one-part, 100-question, three-hour test and is offered in English only.

Certification from ASQ is considered a mark of quality excellence in many industries. It helps you advance your career, and boosts your organizations bottom line through your mastery of quality skills. Becoming certified as a Quality Improvement Associate confirms your commitment to quality and the positive impact it will have on your organization.

Each certification candidate is required to pass an examination that consists of multiple-choice questions that measure comprehension of the body of knowledge.

A. Terms, Concepts, and Principles 1. Quality definitions Describe and distinguish between the common definitions of quality. (Apply)2. Quality planDefine a quality plan, describe its purpose and objectives to achieve the quality mission or policy. Identify the various functional areas and people having responsibility for contributing to its development. (Understand)3. Quality systemsUnderstand the difference and relationship between quality assurance, quality control, and continuous quality improvement. (Understand)4. Organizational cultureUnderstand how culture influences the success of process improvement efforts such as lean, Six Sigma, ISO 9001, Baldrige, and change management. (Understand)5. Employee involvement and empowermentDefine and distinguish between employee involvement and employee empowerment. Describe the benefits of both concepts. (Understand) 6. Systems and processesDefine and distinguish between a system and a process and describe the interrelationships between them. Describe the components of a system – supplier, input, process, output, customer (SIPOC) – and how these components impact the system as a whole. (Analyze)7. VariationDefine and distinguish between common and special cause variation in relation to quality measures. (Understand)8. StandardizationDescribe how quality systems provide consistency and standardization (e.g. ISO 9001). (Remember)Topics in this body of knowledge (BoK) include subtext explana-tions and the cognitive level at which the questions will be written. This information will provide useful guidance for both the test Development Committee and the candidate preparing to take the exam. The subtext is not intended to limit the subject matter or be all-inclusive of material that will be covered in the exam. It is meant to clarify the type of content that will be included on the exam. The descriptor in parentheses at the end of each entry refers to the maximum cognitive level at which the course will be tested. A complete description of cognitive levels is provided at the end of this document. BODY OF KNOWLEDGECertified Quality Improvement Associate (CQIA)

B. Benefits of Quality Describe how using quality tools, techniques, and concepts can Excellerate processes and deliverables (including products and services), and how each benefit all parts of an organization. Describe what quality means to various stakeholders (e.g., employees, organizations, customers, suppliers, community, and interested parties) and how each can benefit from quality. (Understand)C. Foundations of QualityUnderstand the key concepts and teachings of the foundational quality thought leaders including 1) Walter Shewhart, 2) W. Edwards Deming, 3) Joseph Juran, 4) Kaoru Ishikawa, 5) Philip Crosby, and 6) Armand Feigenbaum. (Understand)II. Team Basics (16 Questions)A. Team Organization 1. Team purpose Describe why teams are an effective way to identify and solve problems, and describe when, where, why, and how teams can be used effectively. (Apply)2. Types of teamsDefine and distinguish between various types of teams: process teams, continuous improvement teams, workgroups, self-managed teams, ad hoc project teams, cross-functional teams, and virtual teams. (Apply)3. Value of teamsExplain how a teams efforts can support an organizations key strategies and effect positive change throughout the organization. (Understand)

B. Roles and Responsibilities Describe the roles and responsibilities of various team stakeholders: (Understand) 1. Sponsor 2. Champion3. Facilitator4. Leader5. Member6. Scribe7. TimekeeperC. Team Formation and Group Dynamics 1. Initiating teams Apply the elements of launching and sustaining a successful team, including establishing a clear purpose and goals, developing ground rules and schedules, gaining support from management, and obtaining commitment from team members. (Apply)2. Selecting team members Describe how to select team members based on knowledge, skill sets, and team logistics, such as an adequate number of members in relation to the size or scope of the project, appropriate representation from affected departments or areas, and diversity. (Apply)3. Team stages Describe the classic stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. (Understand)4. Team conflict Identify the value of team conflict and recognize how to resolve it. Define and describe groupthink and how to overcome it. Determine how good logistics, an agenda, and effective training facilitate team success. (Analyze)

5. Team decision-making Describe and use different decision-making models, such as voting (majority rule, multi-voting) and consensus. Use follow-up techniques to clarify the issue to be decided, to confirm agreement on the decision, and to achieve closure. (Apply)III. Continuous Improvement Techniques (40 Questions)A. Process Improvement 1. Six Sigma concepts and toolsCompare Six Sigma concepts, tools, and techniques. Understand the DMAIC phases: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. (Understand)2. Lean concepts and toolsCompare lean concepts, tools, and techniques. Understand lean tools used to reduce waste, including set-up and cycle-time reduction, pull systems (kanban), continuous improvement (kaizen), just-in-time (JIT), 5S, value stream mapping, and error-proofing (poka-yoke). (Understand) 3. BenchmarkingDefine benchmarking and describe how it can be used to develop and support best practices. (Understand)4. Incremental and breakthrough improvement Describe and distinguish between these two types of improvements, the steps required for each, and the type of situation in which either type would be expected. (Understand)

B. Improvement Techniques Select and utilize improvement opportunity techniques and/or methodologies: (Apply) 1. Brainstorming2. Plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle3. Affinity diagrams4. Cost of poor quality (COPQ)5. Internal audits C. Improvement Tools Select, interpret, and apply the basic improvement tools: (Apply) 1. Flowcharts 2. Histograms 3. Pareto charts4. Scatter diagrams5. Check sheets6. Control charts7. Decision trees D. Root Cause AnalysisUtilize root cause tools such as the 5 Whys and fishbone diagram to implement correction and corrective action. (Apply)E. Risk Management Understand the tools and techniques used to identify and communicate risks, including failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) and Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT). Understand prioritization of activities and projects based on risk. (Understand)IV. provider Relationship (7 Questions)A. provider selectionIdentify the provider selection criteria and approval process. (Remember)B. provider relationshipUnderstand provider relationships, associated challenges, and effects of a diverse supply base. (Understand)C. provider PerformanceIdentify provider performance measures, including quality performance, on-time delivery, and level of service. (Apply)V. Customer Relationship(7 Questions)A. Customer IdentificationDistinguish between internal and external customers. Describe their influence on products, services, and processes. (Understand)B. Voice of the Customer (VOC)1. Data gathering and useDescribe various methods for collecting customer satisfaction feedback, including formal surveys, informal feedback, warranty claims, and focus groups. Understand the importance of using customer satisfaction feedback to drive continuous improvement. (Understand)2. Complaint processDefine and identify a customer complaint. Understand and apply the complaint handling process including documentation, action taken, and providing resolve to the customer. (Apply) 3. Customer needsUnderstand the key elements of quality function deployment (QFD) and how it identifies and prioritizes customer expectations and needs. (Understand)

Certified Quality Improvement Associate
Quality-Assurance Improvement basics

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Certified Quality Improvement Associate
Answer: C
Question: 36
For an organisation implementing the ITIL IT Service Management processes which of the
following statements is most accurate?
A. The full benefits will only be realised if all IT staff are fully qualified in IT Service
B. The full benefits will only be realised if Incident & Problem Management processes are
implemented first.
C. The full benefits will only be realised if the business requirements are first ascertained and
then the processes are implemented in an integrated way.
D. The full benefits will only be realised if regular reviews are undertaken with customers.
Answer: C
Question: 37
Which of the following would NOT be a performance measurement for the Service Level
Management function?
A. What percentage of services are covered by SLAs?
B. Are service review meetings held on time and correctly minuted?
C. Are customer perceptions of service improving?
D. How many services are included within the CMDB?
Answer: D
Question: 38
Which of the following is NOT an element of Availability Management?
A. Verification
B. Security
C. Reliability
D. Maintainability
Answer: A
Question: 39
Which of the following statements is TRUE?
A. Physical copies of all CIs are stored in the DSL
B. Release Management is responsible for managing the organisation's rights and obligations
regarding software
C. The DSL contains source code only
D. A change may only be developed from non-definitive versions of software in the case of an
urgent release
Answer: B
Question: 40
Which of the following metrics would you most associate with the Service Desk?
A. The number of high priority incidents occurring
B. The support team which resolves the greatest number of problems
C. The number of problems solved in a day
D. The mean time between failure
Answer: A
Question: 41
Potential benefits from managing IT Service Continuity are:
1. Lower insurance premiums
2. Fulfilment of mandatory or regulatory requirements
3. Reduced business disruption in the event of a disaster
4. Better management of risk and the consequent reduction of the impact of failure
A. 2 and 4
B. 2, 3 and 4
C. All of them
D. 1, 2 and 4
Answer: C
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Quality-Assurance Improvement basics - BingNews Search results Quality-Assurance Improvement basics - BingNews Quality Assurance for Embedded Systems

By Ambuj Nandanwar, Softnautics

In this rapidly evolving technology, embedded systems have become the backbone of the modern world. From the subtle intelligence of smart home devices to the critical operations within healthcare and automotive industries, embedded systems are the quiet architects of our technological landscape. The seamless and error-free operation of these intricate systems is ensured by the meticulous application of Quality Assurance (QA). QA emerges as a paramount force in the development of embedded systems. In this article, we dissect the significance of QA in embedded systems, where precision and reliability are not just desired but mandatory. Join us as we navigate through various aspects of QA, exploring how QA shapes the robust functionality of embedded systems.

Embedded systems are specialized computing systems that are designed to perform dedicated functions or tasks within a larger system. Unlike general-purpose computers, embedded systems are tightly integrated into the devices they operate, making them essential components in various industries. They are the brains behind smart home devices, medical equipment, automotive systems, industrial machinery, and more. These systems ensure seamless and efficient operation without drawing much attention to themselves.

Significance of Quality Assurance in Embedded Systems

In embedded systems, QA involves a systematic process of ensuring that the developed systems meet specified requirements and operate flawlessly in their intended environments. The importance of QA for embedded systems can be emphasized by the following factors:

  • Reliability: Embedded systems often perform critical functions. Whether it's a pacemaker regulating a patient's heartbeat or the control system of an autonomous vehicle, reliability is non-negotiable. QA ensures that these systems operate with a high level of dependability and consistency. Some of the key test types in reliability testing.
    • Feature Testing
    • Regression Testing
    • Load Testing
  • Safety: Many embedded systems are deployed in environments where safety is paramount, such as in medical devices or automotive control systems. QA processes are designed to identify and reduce potential risks and hazards, ensuring that these systems comply with the safety standards. To achieve a safe state in an embedded system, the Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment (HARA) method is applied to embedded systems when it comes to automotive and the healthcare sector, an additional layer of consideration is crucial in medical devices and systems, compliance with data security and patient privacy standards is of utmost importance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) method is applied to ensure that healthcare information is handled securely and confidentially.
  • Compliance: Embedded systems must stick to industry specific regulations and standards. QA processes help verify that the developed systems comply with these regulations, whether they relate to healthcare, automotive safety, smart consumer electronics, or any other sector. Embedded systems undergo various compliance tests depending on the product nature, including regulatory, industry standards, and security compliance tests.
  • Performance: The performance of embedded systems is critical, especially when dealing with real-time applications. QA includes performance testing to ensure that these systems meet response time requirements and can handle the expected workload. Following are the types of performance testing.
    • Load testing
    • Stress testing
    • Scalability testing
    • Throughput testing

Evolution of QA in Embedded Systems

The technological landscape is dynamic, and embedded systems continue to evolve rapidly. Consequently, QA practices must also adapt to keep pace with these changes. Some key aspects of the evolution of QA in embedded systems include

  • Increased complexity: As embedded systems become more complex, with advanced features and connectivity options, QA processes need to address the growing complexity. This involves comprehensive testing methodologies and the incorporation of innovative testing tools.
  • Agile development practices: The adoption of agile methodologies in software development has influenced QA practices in embedded systems. This flexibility allows for more iterative and collaborative development, enabling faster adaptation to change requirements and reducing time-to-market.
  • Security concerns: With the increasing connectivity of embedded systems, security has become a paramount concern. QA processes now include rigorous security testing to identify and address vulnerabilities, protecting embedded systems from potential cyber threats.
  • Integration testing: Given the interconnected nature of modern embedded systems, integration testing has gained significance. QA teams focus on testing how different components and subsystems interact to ensure seamless operation.

Automated Testing in Embedded Systems

As embedded systems fall in complexity, traditional testing methods fall short of providing the speed and accuracy required for efficient development. This is where test automation steps in. Automated testing in embedded systems streamlines the verification process, significantly reducing time-to-market and enhancing overall efficiency. Also, incorporating machine learning algorithms to enhance and modify testing procedures over time, machine learning testing is an important aspect of automated testing. This helps to identify possible problems before they become more serious and increases efficiency.

Testing approaches for Embedded systems

Testing Approaches for Embedded Systems

The foundation of quality control for embedded systems is device and embedded testing. This entails an in-depth assessment of embedded devices to make sure they meet safety and compliance requirements and operate as intended. Embedded systems demand various testing approaches to cover diverse functionalities and applications.

  • Functional testing is used to make sure embedded systems accurately carry out their assigned tasks. With this method, every function is carefully inspected to ensure that it complies with the requirements of the system.
  • Performance testing examines the behavior of an embedded system in different scenarios. This is essential for applications like industrial machinery or automotive control systems where responsiveness in real-time is critical.
  • Safety and compliance testing is essential, especially in industries with strict regulations. Compliance with standards like ISO 26262 in automotive or MISRA-C in software development is non-negotiable to guarantee safety and reliability.

Leveraging machine learning in testing (ML testing)

Machine Learning (ML) is becoming more and more popular as a means of optimizing and automating testing procedures for embedded systems. AIML algorithms are used in test automation. Test time and effort are greatly reduced with ML-driven test automation. It can create and run test cases, find trends in test data, and even forecast possible problems by using past data. ML algorithms are capable of identifying anomalies and departures from typical system behavior. This is particularly helpful in locating minor problems that conventional testing might ignore.

As technology advances, so does the landscape of embedded systems. The future of Quality Assurance in embedded systems holds exciting prospects, with a continued emphasis on automation, machine learning, and agile testing methodologies.

In conclusion, the role of QA in the development of embedded systems is indispensable. It not only guarantees the reliability and safety of these systems but also evolves alongside technological advancements to address new challenges and opportunities in the ever-changing landscape of embedded technology.

Thu, 14 Dec 2023 00:50:00 -0600 en text/html
Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005

Abstract and Introduction

Objective: To review Public Law (PL) 109-41—the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (PSQIA)—and summarize key medication error research that contributed to congressional recognition of the need for this legislation.
Data Sources: Relevant publications related to medication error research, patient safety programs, and the legislative history of and commentary on PL 109-41, published in English, were identified by MEDLINE, PREMEDLINE, Thomas (Library of Congress), and Internet search engine-assisted searches using the terms healthcare quality, medication error, patient safety, PL 109-41, and quality improvement. Additional citations were identified from references cited in related publications.
Study Selection and Data Extraction: All relevant publications were reviewed. Summarization of the PSQIA was carried out by legal textual analysis.
Data Synthesis: PL 109-41 provides privilege and confidentiality for patient safety work product (PSWP) developed for reporting to patient safety organizations (PSOs). It does not establish federal mandatory reporting of significant errors; rather, it relies on existing state reporting systems. The Act does not preempt stronger state protections for PSWP. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is directed to certify PSOs and promote the establishment of a national network of patient safety databases. Whistleblower protection and penalties for unauthorized disclosure of PSWP are among its enforcement mechanisms.
Conclusions: The Act protects clinicians who report minor errors to PSOs and protects the information from disclosure, but providers must increasingly embrace a culture of interdisciplinary concern for patient safety if this protection is to have real impact on patient care.

On July 29, 2005, President George W Bush signed Public Law (PL) 109-41, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (PSQIA).[1] This law can be seen as a response to certain recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its report, To Err Is Human.[2] PL 109-41 establishes legal protection against discovery and unauthorized disclosure of data arising from patient safety and quality improvement programs. It also provides for certification of patient safety organizations (PSOs) to which healthcare organizations can report this data.

The focus of this law is to protect patient safety data that relate to a broad range of medical errors. This paper provides a brief history of research related to medication errors that contributed to the current focus on patient safety. It explains the principal features of the Act, as they may affect the work of pharmacists engaged in patient safety efforts or clinical practice.

Wed, 20 Dec 2023 10:00:00 -0600 en text/html
The future of quality assurance and engineering – How AI is empowering software testers

By Dinesh Mohan

The future of quality assurance (QA) and engineering (QE) is undergoing a significant transformation. The focus now has shifted from mere cost-effectiveness and product quality to prioritising customer experience (CX). It’s no longer just about whether the software works but about how well it meets the experiential demands of users, necessitating a thorough understanding of the business, its services/products, and the technologies employed​. 

Recent findings from the Business Transformation Index 2023 reveal a concerning trend. 76% of firms are falling short on their business transformation initiatives with an alarming 66% missing the mark when it comes to criteria like—staying within budget, timely delivery, or solution reliability. This uptick from 50% in 2022, is a wake-up call highlighting the critical need for robust QA/QE practices, irrespective of the industry. Enter AI in QA—the game changer.

How can AI offer a turnaround?

No longer seen as just a final checkpoint, Quality Assurance and Engineering is now an integral part of the entire software development lifecycle. The narrative now is shift left or get left behind emphasising the importance of early and frequent testing. And AI is enabling this shift by automating various tasks. AI-powered tools analyse code, generate test cases, and execute tests automatically, freeing up testers to focus on more complex activities.

The integration of AI into QA engineering is empowering testers to:

• Automate repetitive tasks and focus on more strategic testing activities

• Move beyond reactive testing towards predictive analysis—predicting and preventing defects from occurring in the first place

• Optimise test data management and Excellerate test coverage

• Generate insightful test reports and provide actionable recommendations

• Collaborate effectively and share knowledge across teams

Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a transformative force also helps overcome the challenges of:

  • Budgetary Control: To provide cost-effective testing, minimise manual labour, and maximise resource allocation, software testers must embrace AI-driven QA/QE models.
  • Timely Delivery: A collaborative effort between human intuition and AI-driven insights lends a hand in identifying the potential bottlenecks early.
  • Solution Reliability: Analysis of vast datasets by AI facilitates predictive maintenance along with empowering testers to pre-emptively address potential software glitches or failures.

However, building a competent QA/QE practice isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s also about fostering talent. The big question is: In this era of digital transformation-

Will AI-driven automation eclipse the need for human QA/QE professionals?

We’re witnessing a blurring of boundaries between industries. Innovations in one sector are rapidly influencing others. This crossover, while improving customer experience, challenges quality engineers to adapt to diverse technological landscapes​.

The fear that AI might render human QA professionals obsolete is, in my opinion, unfounded. Instead, AI is redefining career paths in QA/QE. Testers equipped with AI proficiency are today invaluable assets.

In fact, the changing dynamics have led many companies to rethink the traditional developer-tester ratio. Consider this, ten years ago, a typical ratio of QA testers to developers might have been 1:10 or 2:10. This means that for every 10 developers, there would be 1 or 2 QA testers. Fast forward to today, this ratio is starting to shift, and it is not uncommon to see ratios of 3:10 or 5:10. This means that there are now more QA testers for every developer. 

This ratio is likely to continue to increase in the future due to the increasing complexity of software, the growing importance of quality, and the rise of agile development methodologies.

While automation is gaining momentum, the human element in software testing remains irreplaceable. AI can smartly automate processes, but can never wholly replicate the nuanced understanding and decision-making capabilities of a human tester. Manual testing is absolutely necessary in cases such as—exploratory testing, usability testing, security testing, edge-case testing, providing a second layer of validation, identifying new test cases, and providing feedback to developers.

The future of QA/QE in the AI-Augmented world

It’s true that the comparison between manual and automated testing might currently lean heavily towards automation, yet we can’t overlook the value of manual intervention. The undeniable fact is that AI can revolutionise Technology but the ingenuity, creativity, and intuitive power of People remain the most crucial and irreplaceable parts of the Process.

Quick, efficient delivery of high-quality products/services is a hallmark of successful businesses. And a synergistic approach where AI and automation enhance human capabilities rather than replace them is central to this achievement.

In a future where AI and human ingenuity coalesce to redefine software testing, how can we use technological advancements as a springboard for innovation and excellence?

The author is head of delivery and operations, digital practice, Expleo

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Sat, 09 Dec 2023 05:00:00 -0600 en text/html
BMH showcases quality improvement initiatives
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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Memorial Hospital held its second annual Quality Showcase on Thursday, October 19 in the organization’s Brew Barry Conference Center. Clinical and non-clinical departments at BMH use the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) model for conducting quality improvement projects. This year, more than 30 PDSA initiatives were displayed on colorful poster boards outlining each project’s goals and results.

“Quality improvement is a never-ending process here at BMH,” said Travis Kumph, senior director of Quality, Patient Safety, and Care Management. “That’s why it’s so great to have an event showcasing projects that highlight our culture of continuous improvement and the efforts of our incredible staff to always do better.”

Improvement projects cover a wide range of hospital processes and activities, from ensuring the safe use of medications to preventing infections, ensuring the hospital is well prepared for regulatory surveys, incorporating mental health screenings into primary care office visits, and much more. In the end, continuous quality improvement is the foundation of patient and staff safety, excellent clinical outcomes, and containing costs.

Wed, 13 Dec 2023 10:01:00 -0600 en text/html
MoPH launches training programme for quality improvement, patient safety The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), in collaboration with Hamad Healthcare Quality Institute (HHQI), launched the National Training Programme for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety in Qatar.
The programme was attended by 31 participants from nine different healthcare organisations and hospitals.
The programme is a joint initiative with HHQI to build capacity and capability in healthcare quality improvement and patient safety across the healthcare sector in Qatar. It aims to ensure the delivery of high-quality healthcare for everyone living in Qatar.
On that note, the ministry expanded its regulatory role to also include building capacity and capability of the healthcare workforce in the field of quality and patient safety to help sustain resilience in the Qatar healthcare system. The programme focused on fundamentals of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (FQIC), which represents a significant step in enhancing healthcare standards across the nation, aims to support the continuity of service delivery as patients transition between Public and Private healthcare providers.
The programme is structured with interactive practical sessions, opportunities for reflection and hands-on exercises. Prior to launching this programme, the MoPH performed a Needs Assessment survey to identify educational and training needs in quality and safety for healthcare staff.
The assessment included 1,247 participants from various types of healthcare facilities. The respondents were clinical staff as well as other allied and administrative staff who have patient interactions. The results of this assessment survey assisted in structuring the training course in a way that ensures its success and achieves the desired goal.
Huda al-Khtheeri, director of Strategic Planning, Performance & Innovation department at the Ministry of Public Health, stated in this regard that "This programme was designed in order to drive service and clinical excellence and effectiveness with assurance of high quality and patient safety across the whole health system in Qatar. We aim to attain our national health goals by developing a healthcare workforce that is sustainable and capable to meet the population's health needs. Promoting collaboration between the public and private sectors is important for future health system resilience".
Nasser al-Naimi, chief of Patient Experience and HHQI director, Hamad Medical Corporation, commented on the programme's launch: "This training programme aligns seamlessly with HHQI's strategic direction, reinforcing its status as the national institute for training and building capacity in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety. It marks a crucial step in fulfilling national demands for higher healthcare standards and contributes significantly to the regional prominence in healthcare quality and value".
Nasser emphasised that the initiative goes beyond a mere training programme, and represents a pivotal movement towards fulfilling national and regional aspirations for enhanced healthcare quality and patient safety.
By empowering healthcare professionals with essential skills, the programme aims not only to Excellerate current systems but also to set new benchmarks in healthcare excellence. It is expected to have a far-reaching impact, elevating the quality of healthcare services and ensuring safer patient experiences across Qatar.
Mon, 01 Jan 2024 22:39:00 -0600 en text/html
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Thu, 14 Dec 2023 23:21:00 -0600 Matthew Frankel, CFP en text/html
Parenting classes are routinely ordered in child abuse cases. California isn't ensuring they work No result found, try new keyword!Court-ordered parenting classes are key in child abuse and neglect cases but go largely unregulated in California, a Times investigation has found. Wed, 03 Jan 2024 21:00:30 -0600 en-us text/html Ghana’s billion-dollar ‘Timber merchant’ deal to protect taxes

On Tuesday, January 2, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that he has engaged the local affiliate of KPMG, one of the “Big Four” global professional services firms, to conduct a two-week investigation into the “SML affair”. 

SML is the name of a hitherto unknown entity created in 2017 by timber merchant, Evans Adusei, and a relative just before it entered into discussions with various state agencies to offer “revenue assurance” services.

A mysterious new entrant

The company popped into Ghana’s public consciousness following a documentary and a series of investigations by MFWA-backed investigative outfit, the Fourth Estate. Away from the limelight, activist think tank ACEP has been probing the SML affair as part of an elaborate review of “revenue assurance” programs in Ghana for more than a year.

Alongside broader public financial management (PFM) work in the natural resources sector by another Ghanaian activist think tank, IMANI, ACEP’s careful unpacking of the situation has uncovered multiple redundancies and duplications of efforts costing the Ghanaian taxpayer tens of millions of dollars for little value in return.

The thrust of the SML arrangements is summarised below.

  • SML has been given a series of contracts to block illegal tax evasion and tax avoidance schemes in Ghana since 2019. Beginning with a contract to support the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) in detecting invoice fraud, SML’s tentacles soon spread to the downstream petroleum sector, where it is supposed to assist GRA in fighting under-declaration of fuel volumes and, by extension, taxes collected by the fuel marketers from consumers on behalf of the government.
  • In June 2023, the Finance Ministry wrote to the GRA to advise an expansion of the scope of these contracts to cover minerals exported by Ghana, from which roughly 70% of export revenues are derived. 
  • None of these contracts were competitively awarded. No serious due diligence was conducted on the capacity of SML to deliver any serious value, which is not surprising considering its total lack of track record in this area until it secured the contract. SML’s beneficial owner and principal, the timber merchant mentioned earlier, had no prior Information Technology (IT) business experience either, even though IT is a central plank of the SML value proposition.
  • The downstream petroleum regulator, the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), has signed multiple contracts with companies such as Nationwide Technologies (an agent/affiliate of Texas-based Authentix Inc) and Rock Africa, a company led by former e-waste consultant, Francis Gavor, all of which are meant to fight fraud, adulteration, and under-declaration etc. GRA could very well have engaged the NPA to institute a data-exchange regime. 
  • SML was, at the time investigations commenced, earning 21 million Ghana Cedis (GHS) a month (or ~3.5 million 2020 dollars) from a pricing regime which granted the company 5 Ghana Pesewas (5 GHP) for each litre of the product covered.
  • In the expanded contract scope, SML will henceforth earn 0.75% of the total “volume value” of all mineral resources exported out of Ghana. It will also earn $0.75 for each barrel of “petroleum products” sent overseas from Ghana’s oilfields. 

Why the SML deal is a scandal

There are many things wrong with the SML affair. The procurement abuses are obvious: how did the government learn about the magical revenue assurance mojo of this timber merchant and his new entity to warrant such massive trust? Why did the ever-pliant Public Procurement Authority, long discredited after its previous boss was found engaging in his procurement shenanigans, accept the eligibility of this deal for sole sourcing? 

The pricing is atrocious: SML gets a share of Ghana’s most prized revenue streams for fighting fraud with no clear parameters for measuring the progress of that fight. 

And the underlying logic of the arrangement, especially in the context of multiple state agencies spending precious public resources to pursue the same objectives, is hopeless.

The government’s defence

The government has mounted a spirited defence of the contract. 

The heart of the GRA’s defence rests on a purported improvement seen in revenue numbers since SML volume monitoring began. We quote the GRA statement verbatim below.

The work of SML over the period has led to a significant increase in the figures reported in the downstream petroleum sector, from an average of 350 million litres per month in 2018 and 2019, to 450 million litres per month from 2020/2021. This represents over a thirty- three percent (33%) increase in volume reporting and an average of an extra 100 million litres per month at a levy rate of GH¢1.44p. The extra revenue variance gained for the two (2) years will exceed GH¢3billion. This performance is attributable mainly to the introduction of ICUMS and SML systems.

There is, unfortunately, no grounding to this strange analysis.

The SML defence “falls flat”

For the argument to be sustainable, proof has to be shown that SML’s interventions have led to an uptick in volumes recorded over and above the historical trend of increases over time. What the data instead show is a correlation between volume increases/decreases and exogenous economic factors. 

Take, for instance, the fact that more residual fuel oil (RFO) was consumed in Ghana in 1999 than in 2022. The demand for this fuel was historically boosted beyond its traditional importance in the marine industry due to its use in legacy equipment in the industrial sector. As other petroleum products supplanted RFO, however, volumes dropped significantly. Following a very similar trajectory, the volume of kerosine consumed in Ghana in 2022 was 30 times less than that consumed in 1999, obviously, in part, because of the rise of LPG. Indicative of the challenges in Ghana’s fishing sector, premix fuel consumption has halved over the last ten years. Aviation fuel consumption in 2012, seven years before the SML contract was signed, was nearly 10% higher than in 2020, the first year after the SML monitoring regime went into effect. It is not hard to understand why: COVID. 

Clearly, there are broad and exogenous, factors impacting fuel demand, consumption, and, thus, volumes that can be easily, and mistakenly, subsumed under the ambit of regulatory monitoring and whatever magic SML claims to be performing in the sector.

Focusing only on gas oil (“diesel”) and gasoline (“petrol” or “premier motor spirit”), the main fuels consumed in the downstream sector, elicits the same trend: consumption rises steadily, punctuated mainly by factors exogenous (external) to the fuel industry and its regulation.

For example, petrol consumption was steady for much of the decade between 1999 and 2009 until the completion of HIPC, the discovery and commencement of oil production, and the completion of the 2015 – 2019 IMF program, combined to trigger an economic mini-boom. The surge in consumption continued until dumsor (Ghana’s perennial power crises) peaked in 2015, leading to a major cratering of volumes. The mini-boom created by the end of dumsor, the completion of the IMF program, and the return to the Eurobond market with a vengeance, account for the last spurt of growth that just ended in 2022.

The SML value-addition scam

Only basic arithmetic is required to establish the groundlessness of the “volume increase” proof adduced by the government in support of the SML intervention. 

As evidence that the SML contract has had no effect on things, we can compare the volume increases since the SML monitoring regime went into effect with previous growth phases. Between 2008 and 2015, for instance, volumes increased by more than 112%, on the back of a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 11.5%.  The post-SML situation, on the other hand, saw volumes increase by 18.5% between 2019 and 2022, on the back of a mere 4.34% annual growth rate (the reader should see this in the slope of different segments of the above curve). In simple terms, volumes have increased by far less in the post-SML era than they did during previous eras.

SML may deserve to be surcharged not compensated

The obvious question that arises from the data is whether the fall in volumes that has been experienced between 2021 and 2023 should be attributed to the incompetence of SML. If not, why?

Petrol and diesel volumes dropped 7% and 8%, respectively, between 2021 and 22 due to a combination of economic slowdown and fuel price hikes. In fact, diesel volumes were lower in 2022 than in 2020, the year COVID-19 shut down parts of the economy. The data for 2023, so far, shows that petrol and diesel volumes will be lower than in 2021. 

Should these statistical facts be taken to mean that the SML monitoring regime is losing the country money? Should a surcharge be applied based on an extended application of the same logic of “performance attribution” in the government’s defence of the contract?

The billion-dollar scope-extension

Considering the above analysis of SML’s current work in the downstream sector, it naturally follows that the extension of the contract to cover 70% of Ghana’s exports derived from the minerals and petroleum sectors will lead to a similar misattribution of value, and will amount to, therefore, to a total rip-off of the country. 

First, there is no historical trajectory baseline computed in the contract that would enable the determination of “additional volumes” attributed to SML’s work. Moreover, there is no mechanism to determine how to exonerate/absolve SML if volumes fall and when or how to surcharge them for real underperformance in any given year. The so-called “value for money audits” mentioned in the contract are not defined, and, given the general feel of the contract, may well be undefinable

From the analysis conducted by IMANI and ACEP, depending on certain developments in the minerals and petroleum sector, SML’s cumulative earnings from the contract could exceed $1 billion over the horizon anticipated by the contract. These developments include the activation of new oil fields; prospects of refined petroleum exports (for example, if Sentuo fully comes onstream); continued surge in gold production; effective local refining of minerals such as bauxite and lithium, thereby increasing their value in light of the contract’s construal of “volume value”; and the discovery of new minerals or commercialisation of currently unexploited deposits. 

As has been amply demonstrated, such earnings, in the current framing of the engagement, would be attributable to SML regardless of which exogenous forces (such as local value addition, economic cycles, new discoveries, global commodity prices, global commodity demand etc.) are truly driving the increase in export or consumption volumes. Clearly, the entire arrangement is illogical and cannot be sustained by any rational justification.

SML’s Solution Architecture

SML has protested the Fourth Estate’s coverage and pushed back against the analysis of IMANI and ACEP. It contends that its upfront investments in cutting-edge technologies and skilled staff entitles it to hundreds of millions of dollars of Ghana’s money. 

The scope of the planned investments can be summarised by reference to section 15 of the amended and restated contract signed in 2023. 

The software, sensors, networks and skillsets being promised by SML are valued in cursory fashion at ~$75 million in two tables found in the appendices of the contract.

The government did not perform any valuation of these assets prior to executing the agreement. Given that SML retains the full intellectual property of all these systems, they are meant to be applied to the assignment on a mere subscription basis during the term of the contract. Presumably, then, the contract could have been drafted on the basis of the value of such subscriptions to the procuring entity. It is completely perplexing how the leasing of agent-operated software suddenly translated into a design to share revenues accruing from the country’s fuel consumption and mineral exports.

Besides the total lack of auditability of the financial numbers involved, the technical specifications of the software and instruments being offered in this billion-dollar agreement are also vague to the point of uselessness. Below, we reproduced the entire schema for the reader’s own appreciation.

Solid minerals monitoring suite architecture. Copyright: SML
Upstream petroleum monitoring suite. Copyright: SML

First, as any analyst with any experience whatsoever in any technical field would agree, these “specifications” are meaningless. Even basic diagram legends, notations, and references are missing. The NITA enterprise reference architecture used in Ghana, and other elementary rulesets for IT design in the public sector, were all breezily dismissed for hurriedly cobbled together patchworks that convey no information about how the fancy blockchain technology SML says it will deploy to prevent the mining and petroleum companies from cheating Ghana will actually succeed where all other state agencies have failed.

In order not to bore the reader, this author will not delve further into the technological aspects of the proposed solution, as can be discerned from the diagrams. Suffice it to say that the proposed RFID-blockchain approach in the way it has been laid out betrays a woeful misunderstanding of how each of the interacting domains – blockchain, RFID, Xray, gold assaying, gold bar moulding, mineral weighing etc all work. In a proper investigation, the sheer incongruity of the architecture and its porous logic shall be exposed.

This brings us to the President’s decision to engage KPMG to investigate the SML affair.

Enter KPMG

Ordinarily, any referral of a raging controversy of this nature to technical experts ought to generate some relief. Yet, in this case, the President’s intervention sends mixed signals and can be rather counterproductive. Below, we list some reservations activists have raised.

  • The President’s action came after the matter had been referred to Ghana’s statutorily independent Office of Special Prosecutor, which has acknowledged receipt. 
  • The President’s action attempts to pre-empt a parliamentary enquiry into the matter and has been described as unwelcome by the Parliamentary Opposition. 
  • The terms of reference issued to KPMG do not cover critical areas like the underlying procurement process and the essential logicality of the actual solution architecture. 

There are broader issues of concern as well. 

As everyone knows, KPMG, like the other Big Four professional services firms, is heavily exposed to public sector work in Ghana. It is the advisor to the government on its pandemic relief small business stimulus package. It is advising the GRA, which is at the centre of the SML storm, on the recruitment of technical and other staff to boost delivery capacity. It manages the ESLA tax vehicle on behalf of the government.

More to the point, it regularly pursues “revenue assurance” jobs from various government agencies, including the GRA. In some ways, therefore, it is a technical advisor to the GRA in some of the very areas it is being asked to investigate. It is also a competitor to SML in respect of some of the very areas it is being asked to investigate. Literally, all practice lines at KPMG are implicated in this assignment: audit, accounting, assurance/compliance and consulting. With only 12 partners spread across these practice lines as at last count, the idea of interlocking Chinese walls is simply impractical in an assignment of this nature. 

In accurate years, the complexities of confidentiality, conflict of interest, and political economy dynamics have made the involvement of Big Four firms in politically high-risk assignments fraught with reputational pitfalls. In Ghana, we saw the accurate incident where GRA appeared to have built on initial work by KPMG to justify the hiring of a ghostly revenue assurance firm, Safari Tech, to trap telecom giant, MTN, a company that KPMG regularly serves (such as it did in MTN’s 2017 capital market transaction). That issue degenerated into a contentious mess involving the Ministries of Finance, the GRA, and the Ministry of Communications, leading eventually to what amounts to a political, rather than a technical, settlement.

In other jurisdictions with superior oversight and institutional maturity, such risks have exploded into serious blowouts. In the UK’s politically sensitive Grenfell Tower inquiry, KPMG had to step down over conflict of interest issues. In fact, protracted issues of a similar nature compelled KPMG to suspend further government work for a period in the UK and to even sell some of its business units in order to sustain public trust. In Australia, multiple confidentiality and conflict of interest abuses linked to public sector work have engulfed all Big Four firms, including KPMG.

Closer to Ghana, South Africa provides the most intense example of why Big Four firms should avoid becoming embroiled in politically high-risk assignments. KPMG was manipulated into whitewashing the Gupta cabal and assisting a faction within the Zuma regime to fire a Minister they felt was obstructing the state-capture goals of the cabal. KPMG was abused by commentators as facilitating plunder and later lost lucrative client business

This author cannot presume to lecture KPMG’s risk leaders on which public sector assignments to accept. The firm’s global reckoning with politically sensitive work, however, counsels extreme caution. The SML assignment, judging by its terms of reference, and the timeframe of only two weeks, presents many slippery slopes for KPMG. 

The firm’s In-Flight Review (IFR) framework, which requires partner-level interfacing at multiple rungs of an assignment, and different tiers of internal and external quality assurance, should preclude a rushed and cursory surface-skating over the many delicate issues raised in this essay in a mere two-week period. 

Where these controls in KPMG’s public sector consulting work have failed around the world, the driving factor has invariably been the fraught pressures of the political economy, systemic conflicts of interest, and the relaxation of standards to meet unrealistic project goals and timelines.

There may well be a narrow role for KPMG in assisting statutory and/or constitutionally independent authorities, such as the OSP, Parliament, and the CHRAJ in conducting tightly narrow and highly technical studies on hyper-specific aspects of the SML affair, in ways that do not put KPMG in the position of “clearing” or indicting a client or competitor. That determination has to be made by the authority concerned, and in the pursuit of forensic goals only such authorities, and not a private entity like KPMG, truly have the lawful powers to pursue. We respectfully ask KPMG and the President of Ghana to support truly independent state agencies to delve into this affair without undue assumption of primacy or procedural interference. 

A country that has just repudiated its debts and is in the middle of an IMF bailout program needs to demonstrate the highest levels of fiscal prudence. Unfortunately, this SML development and the handling of its aftermath threatens to further dent Ghana’s PFM credentials. It behoves the government of the day to pull back from the brink whilst there is still time to salvage some scraps of PFM credibility.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

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