Monday, March 28, 2016

TSA: Senate v Remita … Funeral for local content software


The controversies of Treasury Single Account (TSA) have ranged for weeks now with the Senate submitting that its contract with Remita, a locally but globally acknowledged software solution by SystemSpecs be terminated. REMMY NWEKE writes that National Assembly must go beyond lip-service on issues of local content for it to earn a boost.


Pen-ultimate week, the Nigerian Senate also known as Red Chambers took a decision directing the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMF) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to suspend further payments into the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

Top on the grouse of the Senate showed that lots of education is needed when it comes to dealing with certain sectors of the economy backed up with adequate or baseline research; one of such sectors is the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

ITRealms reports that consequent upon a motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) and co-sponsored by some 35 others, the Senate called for investigation into what it described as an abuse and mismanagement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) for the simple fact that a company purportedly the agent for the electronic collection (e-Collection), which in this case happens to be Remita made a colossal N25 billion daily from the transaction, thus Senate enjoined Ministry of Finance and CBN to suspend further payments into the TSA.

Also, the Senate said that the appointment of Remita as e-collection agent was a gross violation of Section 162 (1) of the 1999 Constitution and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act 2007 (BOFIA). Labeling the 1 per cent charge by Remita as an attempt to rip Nigerians of task payer’s moneys, and alleged that the company realised over N25 billion in one day as one per cent of monies transferred.

What is Remita and deliverables?

ITRealms gathered that Remita is an electronic payment (e-Payments) and e-Collections solution on a single multi-bank platform. Presently, Remita is in use by many individuals, public and private sector organisations that process over 500 Billion Naira worth of transactions on a monthly basis.

Remita has been adopted by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the payment and collections of funds on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria and used by all 22 commercial banks and over 400 micro finance banks.

Remita which prides itself as having significantly assisted to revolutionize the e-payment industry in Nigeria, also, comes with an optional Payroll and Human Resource (HR) solution for full integrated processing. 

Remita, developed by SystemSpecs Limited and voted severally as Nigeria's Software of the Year, is indeed a success story and a pride to Africa.

Senate investigates TSA:

ITRealms equally reports that the Upper Chamber in the motion led by Senator Dino Melaye, pointed out that in pursuance of the TSA, the Federal Government had on September 15, 2015, directed all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to close their various accounts with commercial banks and pay all revenues into its account with the CBN under the TSA policy, which culminated in the mopping up of some N2.5 trillion through its e-collection agent, Remita with a Cost of Transaction charged at 1 per cent, which amounted to N25 billion.

The Senators equally said by the policy directive, all revenue generating agencies of the Federal Government such as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) among others; are to pay all revenues collected for and on behalf of the Federal Government into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Aside calling for the immediate return of all monies that had accrued to the e-collection agent, lawmakers called for immediate prosecution of all directors of REMITA in accordance with the BOFIA. Thus it mandated the Committees of Finance, Banking and Other Financial Institutions and Public Account to carry out a holistic investigation on the matter and report back within four weeks.

Novice about TSA:

Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) expressed surprise that a company could have been paid that much just to transfer money to the CBN, stressing that no matter the platform used, the amount was too much and as such must be investigated. He invited his colleagues to be serious about this TSA matter. “… I hope that after investigation, if it is true that somebody is involved in this then he is a sabotage trying to do things like it was done in the past.”

Senator Bassey Akpan (PDP Akwa Ibom North East) wondered why such amount would go to private pockets when there is total collapse of road network and other infrastructure in the country.

For Senator Enyinanya Abaraibe (PDP Abia South), he alleged that over N60 billion was realised by the company, urging senators to go beyond party lines to handle such issues bordering on corruption and ripping off the commonwealth of Nigerians. “Somebody made this decision and we must ask; who gave this order; who is that person in this country that is so powerful to direct MDAs to pay money into a private account? We should not cover anybody in this investigation no matter how highly placed. We are hearing that the money has gone up to N60 billion; one company is taking N60 billion of our money?”

Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC Kebbi South), stressed that no more should the nation allow any company to hide under the role of consultancy to charge outrageously for services rendered.

Out of the over 19 senators that contributed to the motion, several urged the senate not to conclude yet until the committee was done with its investigations.

In the midst of the debates and alarm raised by the revelation, Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central) urged the Senate not to act on rumours but carry out proper investigations before taking definite position on the matter.

NCS, ITSSP reject Senate report on TSA-Remita

The Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) has rejected the recent report of the Senate Joint Committee on Finance, Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions and Public Accounts on the abuse and mismanagement of Treasury Single Account Regime (TSA), reports ITRealms.

NCS, an umbrella body of industry interest groups within the Information Technology (IT) computing professionals, made this rejection through its Information Technology Systems and Security Professionals (ITSSP), arguing that calling for the termination of the Remita contract at this time amounts to stoppage of TSA operation.

According to Rogba Adeoye, the chairperson of ITSSP their rejection of Senate position was based on the fact that despite NCS being an observer in the public hearing and indeed they submitted memorandum after the public hearing as demanded by the Committee.

Termination of TSA contract will kill local content:

While dust settles on the declaration of Senate on TSA and Remita, software practitioners in the country have floored the Upper Chamber over the recommendation for the termination of Treasury Single Account (TSA) contract, arguing, it will kill local efforts and capacity.

According to them, the Senate position will disrupt the TSA operation, undermine the anti-corruption stance of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, and create depression in the local Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry and literally kill local content initiative of the Federal Government.

For the president of the Institute of Software Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) Chief Pius Okigbo, Jr, the call for termination of TSA contract will not in any way promote or encourage local competence, pointing out that Systemspecs, the owners and developers of Remita, did not do any wrong.

“I do not see the reason why the government will terminate the contract. Software industry represents a sector of immense opportunity, massive employment potential, an industry endowed with creativity and technological innovation, wealth creation, talent development and much more,” Okigbo said, and called on CBN and Federal Government to ignore such a heinous call capable of diminishing and putting local contents in the morgue for a long time to come.

Software development, Nigeria’s next hope after oil:

The Senate position also irked some other professionals who spoke at the ISPON President’s Dinner 2016, including the Acting Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Dr. Vincent Olatunji and the immediate president of ISPON and chairman of Connect Technologies, Chief Chris Uwaje, who decried such a call, especially coming from the Senate.

Olatunji, in his remarks to the occasion, expressed the belief that indigenous software development is the good choice for Nigeria to earn foreign exchange at this time, noting that consistent partnerships is required to cement relationships between the government and the private sector

Corroborating this, Uwaje said, oil and gas sector has failed to deliver the required value to develop the nation in the last 50 years, and so challenged the government to resort to indigenous knowledge and with software there is hope for the economy, emphsising that “If we must recover lost grounds of our national development and surmount the challenges of the emerging information society, then indigenous software is the reliable answer and ultimate solution.”

We remain committed to national transformation - Systemspecs:

In a formal response to ITRealms on the recent purported Senate Report in respect of Remita-TSA project, the managing director, SystemSpecs, owners of Remita platform, Mr. John Obaro reiterated his company commitment to indigenous technology for national transformation.

His office he told ITRealms, has been inundated with enormous goodwill messages from home and abroad in respect of our successful record in the indigenous software development space over the past 24 years and especially as it relates to our involvement in the FGN TSA project since 2011. Conversely, he said, they have also had to contend with a barrage of questions on the nature of SystemSpecs involvement with the FGN TSA project and the associated commercial terms, arising from the Senate enquiry.

Obaro said it was fulfilling to note that the Senate report did not accuse Remita of under-delivering on the substance of the contract and that their efforts are recognised as having played a significant role in the life of the nation when it mattered and that the disagreement has only been on the commercial terms of our contract, hence, the Senate Committee further recommended that SystemSpecs' efforts should be rewarded – albeit on a scale which is quite debatable.

SystemSpecs has records of ethical standards:

He pointed out that since inception of SystemSpecs some 24 years ago, it has chosen to be guided by sound ethical principles and walked away from many transactions believed could challenge the standards the firm set for itself. Thus, SystemSpecs is a testimonial of the numerous multi-nationals, indigenous public and private sector organisations and individuals they have been privileged to work with over the years.

Although he said, on the FGN TSA project many people did not give a chance of success, by the way, but they have been careful to respect the terms of contracts and many times gone beyond the call of duty to ensure the immediate and long-term success of the initiative. “We are glad and proud that we have delivered,” he declared.

For emphasis, he said, SystemSpecs wishes to state that the TSA project goes beyond revenue collections and extends to payments, accounting information exchange and update, full real-time integration with GIFMIS, integration with the national financial services ecosystem enabling payers across multiple platforms, 24/7 user support for 50,000 FGN TSA users of Remita platform, among others.

He also noted that while many things seem to have been muddled up in the public domain for different reasons; e-collections schemes anywhere in the world are a product of negotiations based on scope and complexity of tasks involved.

“The subsisting 1 per cent charge eventually agreed by the CBN, banks and ourselves at the commencement of the project was considered a good starting point which could be reviewed based on emerging realities. This much is a clear and integral part of our contracts with the CBN,” Obaro explained.

He emphasized the resounding success of the TSA project has obviously attracted attention from different quarters which may include those benefitting from the old pre-TSA order, competitors who lost out in the selection process, un-informed or under-informed commentators, among others. But in all, Obaro said, they have always been and will remain fully committed to the full resolution of any issue surrounding the commercial component of our contract in the overall larger national interest.

He somewhat expressed excitement to the Senate for its avowed commitment to preserve the national interest, the government for entrusting such a significant national IT project to an indigenous firm, and numerous Nigerians who continue to objectively analyse issues and encourage his team particularly during these times.

CACOL blames Saraki’s Senate of undermining Buhari's anti-corruption war:

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), has accused Senate President, Bukola Saraki, of undermining the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari over the anti-corruption crusade, following the Senate pronouncement to terminate the TSA-Remita project.

CACOL in a letter endorsed by its Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran to the Senate President, and made available to ITRealms, said the Nigerian Senate, under Saraki’s leadership is working at cross-purposes with its own campaign for the adoption of Made-in-Nigeria products by canvassing for the acquisition of foreign revenue aggregation software to replace an existing one created by a Nigerian in Nigeria.

CACOL also accused Saraki of manipulating the Senate to frustrate the Treasury Single Account (TSA) regime currently being implemented via Remita, electronic payment platform developed by SystemSpecs Limited.

The letter dated March 2, 2016, alleged that the Senate under Saraki is playing double standards, especially given that in one breath, the Senate Report “severally insinuates that there is no valid contract between SystemSpecs, the company that provided the Remita TSA collection platform and the CBN and in another breath, recommends that the contract should be immediately terminated.”

“Our investigations however reveal that the CBN and the OAGF independently issued at least five circulars/letters at different times where Remita is specifically mentioned. Can institutions as big and structured as the CBN and OAGF do this without any contract between it and a vendor,” queried CACOL.

The group went on to label the Senate’s recommendation for termination of the contract as “provocative, retrogressive, insensitive and suspicious.”

Remita education for Nigerian Senate:

From the foregoing, it is very clear that the Senators did not just miss the point of engagement between CBN and SystemSpecs for Remita and module of execution, which ab nitio, was that every transaction attracts 1 per cent of total sum and at no time was the mopping up expected.

So, if the mop up came, it can only happen once and for the fact that the 1 per cent kind of cost of transaction amounted to over N2.5billion is a normal rule of engagement, which everyone or better still, industry observers expected the Senators to have known in consultancy and contract engagements. As some of them were political contractors before joining the Senate.

It is obvious that the Senators also did not do their homework very well before exposing their ignorance on the subject matter. Imagine, if Remita was to a foreign software vendor whether such orders and accusations will ever come up to the extent of asking SystemSpecs, developers of Remita to refund money legitimately paid to them for use of their platform.

In all, it is evident that there is need for an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) education for the National Assembly, especially the Senate, more so as far as Remita is concerned. 

Equally, there is need to ensure that Senators mostly those at the Legislative arm of the Federal Government do not constitute themselves a shame at this 21st century, because, after all, they have Internet at their disposal for self-education on modules of contract in the ICT sector and Remita specifically.  

In addition to ensuring that their Special Assistants (SAs) should be knowledgeable enough in research methodologies, in order to prepare them sufficiently, before another embarrassing showcase like exhibited in the Remita imbroglio.

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