On the crisis of TSA ownership…

The Treasury Single Account(TSA) has been a major talking point in the Nigerian political sphere for the past two years. The ongoing debates in the country concerning the TSA have culminated in the Accountant-General of the Federation declaring an audit of the system. This followed the order given by a House of Representatives ad-hoc committee to audit all aspects of the TSA, both the inbound and outbound flows of cash.

The committee held an interactive session on August 16, 2017 with financial regulatory agencies, banks and stakeholders. The aim of the meeting was to ascertain the proceeds of the TSA and improve the efficiency of the policy for greater accountability and transparency.

However, a drama ensued at the National assembly when the Auditor-General of the Federation Anthony Ayene could not properly respond to queries from the Reps about the TSA, admitting that it was an act of omission that the TSA has not been audited in two years of operation. The government has consequently appointed Price Waterhouse Cooper and Ernst & Young as consultant auditors.

The failure of the Auditor-General to properly elucidate on a process in which he is supposed to be a key stakeholder indicates the gross incompetence among senior government officials that is putting the success of laudable programmes like the TSA at risk. It is unfortunate that the narrative is being shaped by misinformation and suspicion because the major stakeholders who should own the policy have been inept at communicating its essence to the public. It is ridiculous that senior government officials such as the Finance Minister and the CBN governor are incapable of defending one of the major policies of their government.

Since 2015 when it became a cornerstone policy of the Buhari government, the TSA has attracted a lot of scrutiny from various quarters, including the media, opposition, and the legislature. Many of these inquiries are simply mischievous attempts by special interests to discredit the process, while some are genuine inquiries arising from inadequate information.

If the various stakeholders including senior government officials, advocacy agencies, and the media had pushed forward the right message concerning what the TSA is about, there wouldn’t have been calls for an audit in the first place as the TSA is a self-auditing system with enough trail to show evidence of cash flow. While the calls for audit cannot be faulted, it is necessary for the right information to be released to the public because there is currently a gap between people who should be communicating and the relevant citizens who should be receiving. Most of these issues occur because of the fears associated with the sudden onset of a new system, inadequate information on the TSA in the public domain, and deliberate attacks by some sectional interests that may be affected by its successful implementation.

There is ample reason why some people may want to attack the TSA out of personal interest. To many, the TSA is a major anti-corruption instrument being used by the current regime, and the government may eventually use it against anybody perceived to be corrupt. However, the TSA is not an initiative of this regime; it fell on their laps and suddenly became a talking point of their administration. This explains their inability to explain the policy to the public. However, the TSA was an idea hatched during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, on the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Nevertheless, the TSA became imperative in 2015, when Buhari ordered that all government revenue be paid into a single account(TSA) held by the CBN. Bank compliance was fast. The following day, all banks checked the government accounts with them and emptied the funds therein into the TSA.

The TSA became the ultimate banking system of the Federal government, wherein all the myriad bank accounts operated by the government and its agencies are unified on a single platform operated electronically. All incoming and outgoing funds are now open to monitoring and the Federal government can easily access and asses its financial status at any given time from a screen.

Ironically, one of the staunchest critics of the TSA is Ayodele Fayose, a PDP governor and a Jonathan ally. For instance, Fayose had accused the APC of using proceeds from the TSA to fund political elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. Fayose’s statement is a misnomer because the TSA is not a fund generating scheme, neither is it a sitting reserve of money. With the TSA, we cannot have ‘proceeds’ because it is simply a system of collecting and reallocating money.

Whenever the Federal Government quotes figures like N3 trillion being collected through the TSA, it is usually implied to the public that this money is lying fallow somewhere, waiting to be used. But this depiction is very wrong and leads to misconceptions. The TSA is not a special fund; it is a system of collecting and disbursing government funds so that all the accounts of the MDAs are domiciled with the CBN and they can access them directly. The Federal government has placed so much emphasis on the money being collected through the TSA without talking about what has been disbursed to various MDAs for execution of projects. All these figures can easily be accessed via the electronic records. Unfortunately, the government has failed to pass the right message across and that is why people are calling for an audit, which should not have been in the first instance.

It is pertinent to note that the TSA was originally created to facilitate effective cash management by the Federal government. It was meant to help the government report its financial status to international institutions and other relevant stakeholders. It would help government to keep track of all its funds and disburse them efficiently. Because it is an electronic platform that leaves a trail, it would also be able to track and record movement of funds, making it an effective anticorruption tool. It is therefore, understandable that the system will ruffle a couple of feathers, who will feed into the misinformation to bring down the process.

Today, the TSA has recorded several milestones and it is necessary for the government to own it and drive its narrative in a simple, transparent manner that is easy for the public to understand. This is necessary to stop the outpour of speculations, suspicions and misinformation currently dominating the narrative on the TSA.

Through the implementation of the TSA, it was discovered that many of the 17, 000 accounts owned by the Federal Government were fictitious accounts operated by private individuals impersonating the government to swindle other entities. It has helped government curtail frivolous spending in a time of recession. It has also helped in reporting the government’s financial standing to its international stakeholders, improving its integrity. Other African countries including Ghana are currently planning to emulate Nigeria and launch a similar financial system.

Despite all the drama surrounding its implementation, the TSA has come to stay. However, for the system to operate successfully, the narrative must be accurately crafted and the message properly delivered to the relevant publics. The Federal government should stop beating about the bush and communicate the real essence of the initiative to the people.

Yusuf, an accountant, wrote in from Kaduna.

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