Beyond saving via treasury single account

OkonjoTHE announcement of savings of about N500 billion through the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by the Federal Government would seem a commendable development but it has also confirmed the existence of  entrenched loopholes in the national treasury that have been exploited by public officers over the years. Before the scheme that has brought about these savings, such loopholes have been left unchecked for decades, thereby paving the way for  successive governments’ entrenchment of  wastage and corruption as the hallmarks of governance in Nigeria. A shame. 

   The major feature of TSA is its unified form of government’s bank accounts. Through it, all funds belonging to the government are domiciled in one account with the Central  Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and deposits into the account or withdrawals from it are done through an electronic payment platform. 

   Although the TSA became operational in 2012 with a focus on payments, it was only a pilot scheme involving 217 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in Abuja.  But by last year, the scheme was extended to all MDAs outside Abuja. This necessitated the execution of all Federal Government-related payments through an electronic platform. Through this scheme, the government was able to boost its treasury with about N500 billion and the success of the pilot scheme made government to direct all MDAs to close all revenue accounts with banks by February 28.

  Again, this development is good but does not absolve the Nigerian government of condemnation for nurturing an environment for financial sleaze to flourish in the public service for so long. Over the years, civil servants and political office holders have used these loopholes to amass wealth, enriching themselves by diverting billions of naira meant for the  execution of projects into their pocket. It is clear now that if the Federal Government maintains an account over which it has control, it can save  so much and guard against fraud. 

  Clearly, it is the use of the e-payment system that has prevented the MDAs from scheming out this money fraudulently. This is because with the e-payment system, money cannot be collected from the treasury as the system requires such information as who is collecting the money, for what purpose and others in order to check fraudulent expenditure.

  But a gnawing question is: why did the government allow the MDAs to operate their separate accounts over the years when it is clear that there should be one account for the government and all its agencies? Section 80 (1) of the 1999  Constitution as amended states that all revenues should be remitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation: “All revenues, or other moneys raised or received by the Federation (not being revenues or other moneys payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.” Thus, beyond the euphoria of having saved N500 billion, the government needs to be told it has operated outside the constitution for too long and must now insist on the illegality of MDAs having different accounts other than the one contained  in the afore-mentioned constitutional provision. This would break the ingrained trend of public office holders looting the treasury blind.

   The profligacy in government is also sufficiently indicative of the collapse of the civil service and the absence of a prudent management of public funds. When the civil service was run by people of integrity, political appointees were well prevented from spending outside what the constitution stipulates.  But now because of the sad depletion of sound values in the civil service, it is the same civil servants who encourage political office holders to misappropriate government’s funds. Indeed, political office holders who take up appointments in government with a view to genuinely serving their fatherland are known to have been persuaded, misled or corralled by civil servants into embracing corrupt ways and defrauding the nation.

  So, this consciousness  of the huge challenge before the nation detracts from any celebration over the recovery of the N500 billion. For before Nigerians lies the responsibility of making the civil servants to operate by a template of financial probity, and ensuring disincentives for those whose major objective of becoming public servants is to loot the treasury.

  In returning financial accountability to the public service, the accountant-general of the federation and the minister of finance must lead the campaign. It behoves them to insist on civil servants and other officials adhering to the law. The financial activities of agencies or the entire government should not be allowed to negate the constitutional provision that the Federal Government of Nigeria maintains only one account which is the  Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.   

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