It was most gratifying to read Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed’s admission last Friday that the judicious management of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has helped advance the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s fight against corruption and saved Nigeria from imminent collapse. While speaking at the All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC) 2016 in Port Harcourt, he claimed that this administration had managed scarce resources prudently, thanks to TSA, the anti-corruption fight and elimination of ghost workers.
This is commendable and has positive implications for national development. It reinforces a recent report from the Economist, which again singled out the TSA as the most significant achievement of the current administration and the Finance Minster of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.“Her TSA may be the biggest coup of all. It replaced a labyrinth of government piggy banks, giving Nigeria more control of its earnings,” the English Newspaper was quoted in the local dailies.
That said, it is a bit disheartening that Lai Mohammed neglected to give credit to SystemSpecs, the innovative indigenous ICT company that invented Remita which is the software responsible for the success of the government’s TSA policy. To date, several officials of the Federal government of Nigeria have continued to laud the various achievements of the TSA at various forums. The software has enabled government recoup over N3 trillion and instilled fiscal discipline that allows government to have control over budget allocations, whilst providing multiple entry points for collections. The execution of the TSA policy made possible by Remita, has significantly reduced the government’s debt servicing costs, lowered liquidity reserve needs, and aided effective use of surplus cash.
The TSA journey to this point has been a long one. For years, the government had tried to adopt TSA but failed since the CBN lacked the technical capacity to manage the retail aspect of the policy. What the Economist conveniently omitted was that a foreign e-technology platform RTGS, which was initially expected and actually tried for a while to drive Nigeria’s TSA project, was found not to be suited for retail payments and collections. The Swedish software did not meet this crucial requirement in the TSA scheme. In building its homegrown Remita platform for TSA implementation, SystemSpecs overcame these challenges from an innovative technological point of view. Today, SystemSpecs has bagged numerous awards both home and abroad to prove this. Would it be asking too much for the government to at least give the local SystemSpecs some credit?
SystemSpecs and its Remita software have been in the news for quite a while because the company has been denied fees after much hard work. Instead of being applauded, the company was initially accused by the Senate of fraud, abuse and mismanagement of TSA. The Senate has since admitted that the N25 billion fraud allegation leveled against SystemSpecs was an error. According to the Joint Senate investigative committee, “the committee could not ascertain the deduction/collection of twenty-five billion Naira (N25 billion) by SystemSpecs as 1% fee charged for the use of its Remita platform within the period under investigation.”
According to my findings as an independent observer, a 1% service fee was stipulated in the contract at inception of the TSA deployment. The contract caters for the multiplicity of stakeholders delivering the service including commercial banks, office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, CBN and SystemSpecs. The 1% was to be shared 50% to SystemSpecs, 40% to the deposit money banks and 10% was the CBN.
In a recent press statement, SystemSpecs explained why it has continued to support the TSA programme despite the continued injustice. The statement reads: “From our end, we have continued to provide and support the Remita platform, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, for use by citizens for all their payments to the Federal Government.
“Our continued support for the TSA is fuelled by our belief in the enormous benefits the Remita software brings to the implementation of TSA to the average citizen. We must admit, though, that we are excited and further driven by the fact that our indigenous Remita software has succeeded in powering the technological backbone for such a successful and strategic national initiative. Along with other well-meaning Nigerians, we do not want this to fail.”
As a people, until we start to recognise and support our indigenous success stories, no foreigner will do so for us. In the bid to diversify the economy beyond oil, Nigeria must review its ICT policy and create the enabling environment for local businesses to thrive especially by upholding its own end of the bargain in contracts.
The TSA story will remain with us for a long time to come as a most innovative and timely rescue that salvaged our haemorrhaging national destiny. Lai Mohammed has done well by sensitising the public on the enormous gains generated by the government’s adoption of the TSA policy. But he must join industry experts and observers world over to give due credit to SystemSpecs for powering the initiative as the nation waits with bated breath for the company to be paid its service charge after much hard work.
Onodome Jakpor is a Lagos-based media practitioner