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Monday, December 08, 2014

Remita: How CBN, Accountant General saved N126bn




In a recent interview with one of the national dailies, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae said one of the ways to enthrone fiscal regime in the country is to stop a regime where government agencies and parastatals are allowed to operate accounts with commercial banks.

According to him, the ideal thing is to have a situation where all funds meant for ministries, department and agencies [MDAs] are kept with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from where the MDAs will withdraw to fund their operations and projects.

“I am speaking from a position of knowledge because I have been there before and I know that it is possible to operate these accounts under the CBN without any bottleneck as some people may want us to believe. What is happening now is that people will lodge huge sums belonging to government at various levels in commercial banks and after a time they will withdraw the interest accrued from these lodgements that in most cases runs into billions of naira. To me that is part of corruption”.

According to reports, while Falae’s proposition is valid, his declaration did not take into cognizance the fact that the rules of engagements have since changed within Government. One of the cardinal components of the Federal Government’s Economic Reform Programme (ERGP) that commenced in 2004 is the implementation of a Treasury Single Account [TSA] for the Federal Government, an initiative that is more comprehensive, and goes well beyond what Chief Falae envisioned.

TSA is a unified structure of government bank accounts that gives a consolidated view of government’s cash resources, based on the unity of cash and treasury. It is a centralized cash position of the treasury, where the revenues of all MDAs are consolidated and all cash outflows (payment and transfers) are executed in a single account within the custody of the CBN.

Championed by the Office of Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), and the CBN, TSA initiative commenced in January 2012 after rigorous planning and extensive stakeholders’ engagement. According to documents released by the CBN, objectives of TSA are to help government unify banking arrangements; assist the federal government in the efficient utilization of government funds for approved projects; promote transparency and accountability in government operations; and reduce the amount, and cost of government borrowing by maximising the use of available government resources to deliver projects.

CBN sources confirmed that the success of TSA was predicated on the highest political support it enjoyed from Nigeria’s number one citizen. President Jonathan in his 2014 New Year address to the nation affirmed that TSA project would be completed in 2014.

“We shall complete the deployment of the three electronic platforms in 2014 – namely, the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) – which are all geared towards improving efficiency and transparency in our public finances. Through these reforms, we have already saved about N126 billion in leaked funds and intend to save more,” President Jonathan said.
 
TSA has two main parts namely, the payment of salaries, suppliers, taxes and the collection of independent government revenues. While the payment side of TSA commenced in January 2012, the collection side would start nationwide in January 2015. With the activation of the payment side of TSA in January 2012, the processing of payment transactions by MDAs which hitherto was done largely via manual mandates to DMBs or the CBN are now processed electronically in line with the CBN National Payments Strategy Vision (NPSV) 2020 initiative and the recent CBN circular on end-to-end electronic payments.

Under the TSA initiative, all government payments are routed from GIFMIS to CBN’s Payment Gateway to effect e-payments into the accounts of individual or corporate beneficiaries in DMBs, micro finance banks [MFBs] and primary mortgage institutions [PMIs], thereby creating a fully automated payment and collection process for the Federal Government.

According to reports, the CBN, after a thorough evaluation of options did adopt Remita, an indigenous solution to be implemented as the CBN’s e-payment gateway platform for the TSA project based on its intelligent architecture, multiple channels integration and availability of product support, among other features.

Findings indicate that the Remita e-payment platform has been in operation for about ten years, serving the payment and collection needs of organizations of all sizes in different sectors of the economy in compliance with CBN’s e-payment framework. 

CBN sources averred that the adoption of Remita as CBN’s e-payment platform testifies to the maturity of the Nigerian ICT industry, and the ingenuity of indigenous software organisations to undertake projects of significant national importance, if given the opportunity by government agencies.

In addition to payments, TSA project will streamline and automate the independent revenue collections of MDAs using the GIFMIS and the CBN-Remita payment gateway. This is done in collaboration with DMBs and other electronic collection channels like internet banking, PoS, ATMs, mobile wallets and electronic cards.

The deployment of Remita across DMBs and other channels to automate and consolidate government revenue collections from all payers will ensure that government funds are deposited directly into the TSA account held at CBN, for further credit to the collecting MDAs.

Some of the benefits of the TSA revenue collection initiative include plugging loopholes in the Federal Government revenue collection system; enthroning a new regime of transparent and accountable Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) management; and improving funds availability for funding of poverty eradication programmes.

The project also aligns with the on-going CBN e-payment policy, which is aimed at easing the burden of revenue payers and making government services easily accessible to the public. To date, about 500 out of the 700 plus MDAs have been enrolled on GIFMIS.  

According to findings, despite the laudable objectives of the TSA project and the president’s directives, TSA is still experiencing pockets of resistance from some MDAs. Insiders said the reason for this resistance ranges from fear of loss of control over cash allocation; reduction in funds allocation due to increased transparency of utilization of funds; traceability of the budgeting process; to loss of patronage by banks who deal with MDAs for funds deposits.

Findings further show that some MDAs may not fully appreciate the benefits of the programme. “The MDAs are concerned about the reduced patronage of government contractors who before now were always trooping to MDAs’ offices to seek payment of their invoices, and the loss of access to independent revenues collections made on behalf of government, as this will now be paid directly into a central account,” an insider said. 

Sources also say the implementation of TSA has positively influenced the management of the Federal Government’s accounts as there is now a huge reduction in idle cash kept by MDAs in DMBs and as a result, most “MDAs are no longer cash strapped to execute their projects”. The manual processing of MDAs payments by DMBs and CBN has also almost disappeared.

TSA has empowered the government with the capability to close its books and know its cash position on specified dates as prescribed by statutory accounting rules. In addition, there is now a transparent and reliable system of cash backing for MDAs’ expenditure because of the halt in the maintenance of direct relationship by MDAs with DMBs. 

Besides, the TSA initiative has also enthroned a new regime of transparency in the allocation of funds. For instance, the appropriated budget of each MDA is given directly to the management of the MDAs, clearly separate from that of the supervising ministry. This means MDAs are unable to spend beyond the approved budget in any given year.

 “It is pertinent to commend all the institutions involved in the conceptualization and implementation of the TSA project, considering the myriad of challenges faced because of the attitude of some of the MDAs and other interested external stakeholders”, sources said. 

However, in all of these, one needs to remember that the President’s deadline for the migration of all the MDAs to GIFMIS TSA is December 31, 2014. Will the MDAs yield to the President’s directives? Time will tell.

*This commentary was contributed by +Psalmson Olaegbe 


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