Counting the Gains of Treasury Single Account

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Kemi Adeosun

The Treasury Single Account (TSA), powered by SystemSpecs, in force to manage the revenue flow of government is a necessary tool for transparency and accountability in governance, which must stay, despite the Shenanigan surrounding its implementation writes Kunle Aderinokun

For a time like this, it came into existence. It was a need long unmet. In its nurture and sustenance, reside the seed of hope for securing a future for Nigeria’s patrimony, drive economic resurgence, the renaissance of indigenous technology and multiplier effects in terms of national progress. Yet, it is indeed an irony to witness the traumatic play-outs that are starving same baby to death gradually. Will it live or die? This is the question.

A solution to check the mysterious and callous disappearance of Nigeria’s collective patrimony into private wallets in high places has long been sought. For what seemed like eons, it remained elusive allowing mind-bugling financial leakages that kept the country perpetually in servitude to the whims of the sabotaging Mafiosi that grease the wheel of corruption. Then it was found. Not in foreign shores or lofty havens decked in corporate finery. It was found in a humble but diligent abode where oiled feet might seldom trod. Sometimes we find our needed elixir in the unsung and unheralded but noble places where the humble breed value quietly. The awaited solution to the erstwhile intractable Nigerian problem was found here in Nigeria, developed by an indigenous innovator. This is the miracle of Remita.

Whichever way the wind blows at the final curtain call of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians will doubtless appreciate the president’s full implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) initiative, a public account system under which all government revenue, incomes and inflows are collected into one singe account maintained by the country’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)). The technology that has been behind the success of that scheme is Remita, an indigenously developed e-collection and e-payment platform from SystemSpecs

TSA enables proper monitoring of government receipts and expenditure. It has been helping to check the previous culture of remittance loss, lack of financial transparencies and wastages in many governmental agencies that have been the bane of growth of our economy and progress as a nation. Previously, we had a situation where some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) managed their finances like empires and remitted limited revenue to government treasuries. With TSA, this is no longer the case.

In an earlier pilot scheme by the Federal Government, using 217 MDAs as test case, the TSA scheme saved the country about N500 billion in frivolous spending. The solidified directive by President Mohammed Buhari in 2015 that all government revenues should be remitted to a single account subsequently established full implementation of the TSA scheme in Nigeria.

In the Beginning …

A search for cutting-edge technology that will be pragmatically suitable to drive implementation of TSA started earlier on. After a rigorous evaluation process by CBN, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) and support from their foreign consultants, Remita developed by SystemSpecs was selected ahead of other local and foreign options to provide the electronic payment technology to power the Federal Government’s TSA project.

At this juncture, it is noteworthy that a foreign option, the Real-time Gross Settlement (RTGS), which was initially expected to drive the payment leg was not ready and was running about one year late. Furthermore, when RTGS was ready, it was observed that it was not appropriate for retail payment, a crucial component of the whole TSA objective. Effectively rising above such weaknesses for pragmatic deployment has been one of the key points in Remita’s success. The untold story of Remita is a sobering affirmation that indigenous technological innovators and industrious Nigerians can indeed make significant positive differences in value creation for national advancement when given the opportunity to thrive. The enabling platform built into the Remita project through years of excruciating labour facilitated the beginning of full implementation of TSA system in Nigeria.

The Impact…

Remita is developed by SystemSpecs, a Lagos-based provider of qualitative e-payment, financial and human resource management software solutions in Africa. Many of Nigeria’s exceptional software talents are in the employ of the 24 year-old organisation.

As at December 2015, over N2 trillion had been remitted into the coffers of Federal Government through the Remita -powered TSA initiative. In previous years, the inflows disappeared in curious ways that nobody was able to properly account for. With Remita technology, the Federal Government recorded N3 trillion inflows into the TSA in the first quarter of 2016 alone.

These achievements are of huge strategic significance in our national economic recovery efforts, especially in these challenging times. Funds that could otherwise have been frittered away are now made available for infrastructural and developmental endeavours for national progress. In recognition of its promotion of excellence, best practices and innovation, Remita e-payments solution won an international award in April 2016. The “leadership in technology” award was conferred on SystemSpecs in Scotland on April 22 this year by the Africa Forum Scotland for its use of Remita as a tool of national and economic development.

The Managing Director of SystemSpecs, John Obaro, was also recognised as the software personality of the year at the Nigeria Communications Week’s Beacon of Information and Communications Technology (BoICT) Awards in Lagos on 23rd April, 2016. The company dedicated the awards to the hardworking, although often unsung, Nigerians who devise innovative, home-grown solutions to the various challenges facing the county thereby contributing their efforts towards making Nigeria great in the world.

Starving Remita to Death

In light of the foregoing background, it is indeed a sobering irony to see orchestrations of events poised to fritter away the goodwill, enabling platforms and gains created by the Remita technology for Nigeria. As the Buhari administration clocks one year today, TSA is arguably its most laudable initiative; sadly, the software behind the success of TSA, Remita owned by SystemSpecs, is being killed gradually. SystemSpecs has not been paid a cent or allowed to charge for its services for over a year since initial deployment in March 2015.

SystemSpecs has a valid contract for the provision of the Payment Gateway that supports payment and collections of government revenue on TSA. A committee comprising of CBN, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), banks and SystemSpecs agreed a fee 1 per cent service charge at inception.

Full implementation of TSA gained traction when President Muhammadu Buhari mandated the closure of all FGN accounts held in commercial banks by September 15, 2015. The development led to a massive one-time surge especially for September and October of 2015 as MDAs sought to comply. Subsequently the OAGF invited SystemSpecs to an impromptu project review meeting where they expressed concern about the negotiated service fees considering the now enlarged scope of the project. The fees accruable to SystemsSpecs were deemed exorbitant suddenly but SystemSpecs was of the opinion that there was only one contracted rate of 1 per cent for any transaction passing through the Remita platform. The system is accordingly configured to calculate 1 per cent charge on any transaction passed through the platform. It is curious that after SystemSpecs had practically demonstrated its technology was able to deliver on TSA, the whole process suddenly became “very easy” and not deserving of previous contractual rates earlier negotiated. Nevertheless, SystemSpecs was open to re-negotiation but was asked to refund all its due earnings on the platform and has not received payments for its services since then. Yet TSA continues to be powered by Remita till date.

Where Do We Go from Here?

With the foregoing, as a country we pass a dangerous message across to upcoming generations of patriotic Nigerians and the outside world that the time-honoured virtues of business integrity, accountability, diligence, professionalism and patriotism might not actually matter in this clime. More eloquent than any verbal proclamation, the tragic posture of the concerned Nigerian authorities on the Remita issue suggests that indigenous vendors of innovations are to be downtrodden under the boots of government bureaucracy while the same authorities are often willing to grovel before international individuals or organisations that might actually offer inferior value but are nevertheless pandered to simply because of their nationalities. If the government continues on this path of such tragic legacies, then serious danger looms for our collective future as a nation in terms of posterity.

In the words of Obaro: “We must promote and reward indigenous entrepreneurs. Except our nation begins to respect intellectual property rights and reward innovation, we will kill innovation. We must be careful not to scare intellectuals and core professionals from wanting to do any business with government.

If such assault on entrepreneurship, hard work and creative technology is not addressed, we stand the risk of discouraging the younger ones who look up to mentor organisations like SystemSpecs, a multi-award-winning indigenous software company and clearly one of the best technology firms out of Nigeria and indeed Africa.”

As the current administration marks its one year anniversary in governance, this is an opportunity for it to send the proper message across on the Remita issue that equity, justice, probity and fairness are high on its lists of core values.