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Why TSA deserves a fighting chance

The Nigerian economy is in the doldrums. Hardly anyone needs to be reminded that the prices of foodstuff and other basic necessities have literally gone through the roof. Companies and businesses are folding up in droves, and the few existing ones either owe or short-pay staff just to remain afloat.

The youth are obviously bearing the brunt, being the supposedly most active section of the population. Many are out of jobs, and in a bid to make ends meet, often fall prey to the antics of con artists who advertise get-rich-quick schemes on the social media. With Nigeria’s overdependence on crude oil and the dwindling prices of the product on the international market, many fear it is only a matter of time before the economy will hit rock bottom despite government’s assurances to the contrary.

Late last year, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration adopted the TSA policy to tackle corruption and reinstitute probity in the public service. The policy implementation may come with some teething challenges, no doubt. But I find it baffling that most people feel the TSA is a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong in the polity. Bad as things are, I’m sure the best way to go is forward and not backward. We obviously cannot thrive in a system where supposedly upstanding public officeholders make the news for financial scams running into billions of Naira, while the rest of us wallow in abject poverty. So rather than toe the usual ‘crowd mentality’ and throw the TSA away with the bathwater, maybe we need to set the records straight.

First off, the TSA was only adopted on September 15, 2015. But as of the first quarter of this year, it had helped the government recover a whopping N3 trillion of its cash assets lying idle in deposit money banks. Let’s not forget thaton assumption of office last year,

President Buhari claimed he inherited an empty treasury which constrained him from executing developmental projects that would ease the hardship experienced by Nigerians in line with his campaign promises. We can hardly blame him. At the time, government agencies operated about 17,000 accounts that were mismanaged and made no remittances to the government. Consequently, government was starved of funds while a few individuals fed fat on money meant to get us out of the woods. But to their dismay, the dynamics have changed. Today, government can keep close tabs on its expenditure and track revenues generated by its MDAs, and no agency can falsify the amount of money it generates daily. Granted, government has to speedily come up with a workable plan on how to spend the funds it has recovered so far. But I can sleep easier knowing my money is locked up in a vault waiting to be used than have it siphonedfor the generational welfare of an unnamed group of individuals.

Meantime, I’m not surprised the TSA narrative is taking a lot offlack. You wouldn’t ordinarily expect individuals whose illegal revenue streams have dried up to roll out the drums celebrating the policy responsible for their plight. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) recently took up arms against the policy with claims that it was denying them much-needed autonomy, especially access to research grants from overseas. But rather than attack the policy for that reason, what ASUU needs do is a make a case for TSA to collect foreign currencies. I take issue with any kind of autonomy that leaves little room for accountability and probity.

Recently, Vice President Yemi Osibajo announced that the TSA policy had eliminated a whopping 40,000 ghost workers from the public sector. This is a phenomenon that fleeces the country of hard-earned funds monthly, while a few unscrupulous individuals make financial provision for generations unborn. The TSA gets my vote for helping to sanitise the rot that the public sector has become.

We all thought our banks were strong following the recapitalisation exercise in 2004. But little did we know that all this time they were relying on cash deposits from MDAs that remained dormant while the government was starved of funds and often had to borrow its own money at high interest rates. But that door was closed with the implementation of TSA, when all these funds were consolidated into a single account domiciled with the Central bank of Nigeria. The result? Mass layoffs and salary cuts have become the order of the day in the banking industry because rather than focus on deposit mobilisation, these banks were only relying on idle funds which they hardly ever lent to the real sector for economic development. If I lodge my money in a bank, I want to be sure I’m making a choice that will not leave me broke in the next few years. The TSA has exposed the weakness in Nigeria’s banking system, and is obviously playing its part in strengthening the capital base of our financial institutions. Surely, such a policy cannot be all bad.

Many have made the case that the TSA should have been adopted some other time, not just now. But I beg to differ. If not now, when? Let’s not forget that oil prices continue to dwindle on the international market and there’s no telling when the cycle will stop. Now is the time for any forward-looking nation in our shoes to tighten its seatbelt, diversify revenue-generating sources and eliminate loose spending. As far as I’m concerned, that is exactly what the government has done with the TSA. Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better. The economy is tough, no doubt. But maybe we have to look at the big picture and not be out for immediate gains. The policy is still very fresh, and we all have to give it a fighting chance to succeed if we must achieve our collective national goals in record time.

Kashimu is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst


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