Record management practices

03 September 2021 | Columns

Sarah Negumbo

Implementation of the retention and disposal guidelines to create space in registries

Good record-keeping is attributed to the establishment of a tool called filing system/plan. It is the central record-keeping system of an institution, and it assists staff members to be organised, systematic, efficient and transparent. It also helps citizens who would like to access information to do so easily. Filing means keeping documents/records in a safe place, ordered place to enable efficient and effective use.

Why do we need to have filing systems/plans in place? The answer is to ensure institutions can account for all organisational activities, to ensure staff members who need to use such documents/records should know where to get them and to keep these documents/records for future reference.

Institutions ought to have up-to-date, unified and approved filing systems/plans, which could form the basis of any effective records management system.

Having filing systems/plans in place

The compilation and management of the filing systems/plans is the responsibility of each individual organisation, with the assistance of the National Archives of Namibia. Furthermore, individual organisations are also responsible to ensure the usage of the filing systems/plans, and the mandate to have such a tool in place cannot be over-emphasised, as clearly captured in the Archives Act, Act No. 12 of 1992.

Filing systems/plans are living documents that should be reviewed and updated as organisations evolve, in order to maintain their ability to serve the organisations that they were created to serve. In the absence of an up-to-date, unified and approved filing system/plan, which forms the backbone of any effective records-management system, the entire records management system could collapse.

Retention and disposal guidelines

The approval of the filing system/plan should be followed immediately by the compilation, approval and usage of the retention and disposal guidelines, which comprises a list of record series of an organisation, with standing instructions that specify the duration of each category of records.

Without the retention and disposal guidelines, institutions end up not knowing what to keep and for how long to keep it and what to destroy and when to destroy. Also, they would not know what to transfer to National Archives for permanent preservation and when to transfer it.

As a result, institutions tend to keep every document/record, which then leads to a lack of storage space. In the absence of guidelines for the retention and disposal of records, records of potential value are destroyed prematurely or similarly, records of no value may be preserved longer than necessary.

Challenges caused by the absence of essential tools

We often hear accounts of offices/registries running out of storage space, and this is a result of not applying the retention and disposal guidelines. The challenge is that some government offices do not have unified and approved filing systems/plans with retention and disposal guidelines in place. The institutions that have implemented such measures are not fully utilising them, to ensure unwanted records are not kept unnecessarily, and that space is created for active records.

Ensure proper records management practices

As soon as an organisation has an approved filing system/plan in place, with retention and disposal guidelines, the process should not end there. There is a need to ensure that the documents and records are following a life-cycle of records management and that all steps are being ticked-off, for example; documents/records should go through all steps; creation, storage, maintenance and use, transfer or disposition.

Assistance offered by the National Archives of Namibia

Government offices, ministries, agencies, parastatals and regional councils are advised to approach the National Archives of Namibia for guidance whenever they are compiling and/or reviewing their filing systems/plans, as our mandate is to educate, train, and preserve records for the future generation. Finally, a filing system/plan is a must-have for every organisation - it is not just for government offices.

*Sarah Iyaloo Negumbo is an information management specialist and the director of the Namibia Library and Archives Service in the ministry of education, arts and culture.

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