NHIS: Why TUC should not point fingers at TSA

Since September 15, 2015 when the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy was implemented, it has been making headlines on the news pages, but hardly for the best of reasons. Nowadays, it seems every problem under the sun is blamed on the TSA, including delayed salaries, pay cuts and even something as ridiculous as lopsided end-of-year promotions.

Some months ago, the sports ministry claimed it was unable to remunerate our sports team who participated in the Rio Olympic games because its funds were domiciled in the TSA. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took the reins afterwards, alleging that lecturers were unable to access foreign grants and other perks due to the TSA which was undermining their autonomy. Oddly enough, fingers have been known to point at the TSA when some of our universities run out of letterhead paper. How more ridiculous can the blame game get?

ASUU may have fought and won the battle for exclusion of its foreign grants from the TSA to perpetuate a cycle of misappropriation of funds in our tertiary institutions. But it is appalling that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) is joining the bandwagon to claim that the NHIS funds are ‘trapped’ in the TSA as well, whipping up public sympathy on the platform of affordable healthcare.

It is no news that the NHIS is mired in fraud. Last time we checked, the 11-year-old scheme was enmeshed in misappropriation of funds to the tune of a whopping N2.1 billion. In a recent interview granted to newsmen, NHIS Executive Secretary Usman Yusuf disclosed that federal workers who enrolled for the scheme were not being attended to, and the fraud rocking the system was much worse than the fuel subsidy scam. It is precisely for these and other reasons that the scheme needs to come under the umbrella of the TSA to install a measure of fiscal discipline and accountability that it has not known in its 11 years of existence.

Truth is, the anti-TSA campaign amounts to giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. So far, the TSA has helped the government recover N4.3 trillion of its cash assets hitherto ‘trapped’ in the system, no pun intended. The majority would have us return to the dark era when mismanagement of funds and impunity were the order of the day. But if there is to be a revolution, it must start now and we must support it. The TSA is not quicksand which traps funds. It is only a single account where the funds generated by our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are lodged and disbursed subject to agreed processes meant to instil a measure of accountability in the administration of public funds.

Coming back to the NHIS, it is misleading for the TUC to go to town with news that NHIS’s funds are ‘trapped’ in the TSA and this is affecting healthcare delivery to workers who enroll for the scheme. Fact is, the TSA is only a year old while the NHIS is 11.Without question, the NHIS has barely scratched the surface of affordable healthcare delivery to Nigerian workers, much less the rest of us within that time frame. So it is highly unfair to blame its glaring inadequacies on the TSA.

To counter the much-vaunted ‘trapped funds’ argument directly, NHIS’s funds in the TSA are accessible to select officers and management staff who can access and make transactions with it subject to the approval levels required by the organisation, as with other MDAs in the Federation. It is preposterous that the TUC is feigning ignorance of the fact that the same processes that guide opening and operating accounts in commercial banks apply to the TSA as well. Before TSA when MDA funds were domiciled with multiple commercial banks, their financial transactions underwent various levels of approval and did not sail through until the final approver rubber-stamped the process. Asking for anything different with the TSA smacks of the antics of a few disgruntled elements out to take us back to the pre-TSA era when they could siphon public funds without any paper or electronic trail.

The TUC needs to use the media to sell a positive message rather than claim that the permission of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), CBN authorities and other external ‘regulators’ is needed before MDAs can make transactions out of their accounts. Truth is, even before the full implementation of the TSA as far back as 2012, the CBN and the AGF did not vet transactions processed by the MDAs. I am not sure they are about to start that now.

On a more practical level, there are laid-down procedures for addressing grievances rather than playing the whipping boy in the public domain. If the NHIS requires asub-account or wishes to invest its funds for more efficient service delivery to the citizenry, the Scheme’s managers should simply apply to the AGF for it and get back to the public if their request is unduly delayed or denied. Then, they might have a case. But at this point, the rest of us are much too busy trying to eke out a living to pay any attention to populist statements that take us nowhere fast.

Iheanacho, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Lagos

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