By Dele Sobowale
“It ain’t the things you don’t know that cause the problem. It’s the things you think you know that ain’t so. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 117).
Not all changes are for the better; and some supposed changes represent a step backwards. Treasury Single Account, TSA, represents one change which might not be for the better. And, in part one of this series last week it has already been made clear that it is not entirely new. The same old idea of centralizing Federal Government accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in a bid to reduce corruption had been tried twice, without success, in the 1980s.
Incidentally, if you ask any of its supporters what it is designed to achieve, the answer will be, “to curb corruption”. But will it? If historical experience in Nigeria is to be our guide, the correct answer will have to be “very doubtful”. Let me quickly explain the reasons.
While conducting the research which resulted in the book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, what was most striking to me was how much corruption was accounted for by transactions and activities which are not reflected in the balances in the bank accounts of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs.
In other words the grand theft had already been committed by the time deposits are made into the bank accounts of MDAs. To be quite candid, all TSA is asking for the MDAs to do is to deposit the “leftovers” – after the major part of the meal had been consumed.
Anyone expecting to put a stop to the major sources of corruption in the Federal Government by introducing TSA has not got a good grasp of the sources of corruption. Nobody steals money which had already been deposited in the account. The looting occurs BEFORE the deposits into the bank. Let me provide some examples.
In 1999, shortly after President Obasanjo was sworn into office, he announced that ten billion naira, N10bn, had been approved for a Poverty Alleviation Programme, PAP, by an agency which would be headed by Chief Tony Anenih, the PDP Party Leader (see pages 33-34 of the book). The National Assembly had not been inaugurated to consider and approve the expenditure. Yet, the money was released by the CBN. Till today nobody knows how the N10 billion vanished and what was achieved by it. How on earth would withdrawing Federal Government funds from banks prevent this sort of executive lawlessness?
In Chapter 8 of the book, there is a detailed report of how NITEL went from a parastatal earning one billion naira, N1bn, per annum, to one losing fifty billion naira, N50bn, when it was handed over to a shady company called Pentascope. Till today, nobody had been held accountable for the deal. Again, how would withdrawing NITEL’s deposits from banks have prevented one of the biggest scams in our history – which was nevertheless swept under the rug?
Under President Jonathan, and according to his former Minister of Petroleum Resources, 400,000 barrels of crude were being stolen everyday from Nigeria. Don’t ask me how they could be so sure of the exact volume stolen. As, I once wrote, the entire fraud about stolen crude reminds me of the Russian story about the man who could always predict when sheep will be stolen in a village – until it was discovered that he was the thief.
At US$100 per barrel in 2013, that amounted to forty million dollars, US$40m, per day, and twelve billion dollars, US$12bn, per annum. Not a single kobo of that money entered into the bank account of any MDA. In fact, all the other MDAs put together could not have had so much money in their accounts all year – even if every kobo of revenue generated was deposited.
Perhaps no parastatal demonstrates the futility of trying to curb corruption through TSA like the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA. In addition to having offices in many parts of the globe transacting businesses on our behalf, NPA presents over a hundred different ways by which the Federal Republic of Nigeria is short-changed by the Board, Executive and non-Executive Directors, Managers, Security stall, Tally Clerks etc – all of who go home everyday and every shift with money that should be in the national coffers. Billions of dollars are stolen every year through various scams. Again, not a kobo of these stolen funds enter the bank accounts of NPA.
There is no need to list seriatim all the ways through which public servants line their pockets with funds which should be deposited in the banks. It is merely sufficient to remove the illusion that TSA will curb corruption. Its impact, as a matter of fact will be minimal. Instead, what TSA will do is to almost bring MDAs to a halt – unless am amendment is made to the order. It was this lesson which forced other governments in the past to abandon it.
Already, enforcement of the instructions is running into hitches. By deadline, some MDAs had not complied. Government itself has had to exempt the NNPC from strict compliance. Even, the NPA, despite its endemic corruption, would have to be excused. With bank accounts in several countries, it is not easy to close all of them and deposit the funds in the CBN.
Finally, it is doubtful if anybody had asked the question: how will the MDAs operate the day after they have surrendered all their funds? Are they now supposed to go to the CBN for purchase of petrol and stationery etc? TSA will create more problems than it will solve. Toss it out.