By Segun Oruame
In its report on ‘Abuse and Mismanagement of TSA,’ the senate has recommended that the Remita payment platform be discontinued and persons responsible for its implementation prosecuted for allegedly committing fraud.
The senate conclusion is as shocking as is its original motive. From the onset, the senate appears to have displayed a lack of understanding of the Remita payment platform and how it fits into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) process. Moving from calling Remita a company, it would later paint the picture of a newly signed TSA contract with Remita, a company.
Weeks later, it would appear the senate suddenly understood that Remita is an application – a payment platform designed and managed by a Nigerian software company: Systemspecs Limited; and also that the contractual obligations that bind the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Systemspecs for the use of Remita for the TSA predates the Buhari administration.
Since then, a bewildered nation and ICT stakeholders have watched how indigenous entrepreneurship can be smoldered by self-serving politics. What went wrong with the Remita deal? Politics and unwholesome trade interest of competitors, who lost out, cleverly passed off as national interest.
The fact as it stands is that Systemspecs involvement with the government of Nigeria on the TSA project started in 2011. The agreement was fostered on a subsisting 1% charge by the CBN, participating commercial banks and Systemspecs which was also subject to review.
While the TSA was designed to help government close loopholes for corruption in the public sector, absence of willpower by the immediate past government to implement it meant only few MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) participated in the process.
Under this new administration, intent on closing the holes, TSA became mandatory. The result was an unprecedented use of the Remita platform which in any case was designed to accommodate the traffic. But it also meant a higher commission for the banks and Systemspecs. That extra gain is the causative factor for the entire hullabaloo for which the senate has occupied the nation for months now.
As the Holy Book said, ‘money [truly] is the root of evil’. It would appear that competitors to Systemspecs, flustered by the new height achieved by Remita and the monetary benefits accruable to Systemspecs, have instigated a section of the political class to visit legislative tyranny on an otherwise inspiring exercise.
Systemspecs may be the immediate beneficiary of the project but because the entire exercise is a testament to the promotion of local skill set, local content and indigenous ICT enterprises, it is the nation that ultimately benefits best. Politics that poisons local entrepreneurship eventually sells a country into slavery.
Nigeria owes herself the duty to nurture more Systemspecs and to ensure fair and open competition. Most importantly, politicians sworn to actualize national interests do no justice to probity and their conscience when in pursuit of individual business goals, they suffocate honest ventures of ordinary citizens.
‘National interest is supreme interest’
Official statement on the Senate report in respect of Remita by John Obaro, MD/CEO, Systemspecs Limited, developers of Remita payment platform.
Over the past few months, our company 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.
On another hand, we have also had to contend with a barrage of questions on the nature of our involvement with the FGN TSA project and the associated commercial terms, arising from the Senate enquiry.
It is fulfilling to note that the Senate report did not accuse Remita of under-delivering on the substance of the contract and that our 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. The Senate Committee further recommended that SystemSpecs’ efforts should be rewarded – albeit on a scale which is quite debatable.
Since inception over 24 years, we have chosen to be guided by sound ethical principles and have walked away from many transactions we believe can challenge the standards we have set for ourselves. This is attestable to by the numerous multi-national, indigenous public and private sector organisations and individuals we have been privileged to work with over the years.
On the FGN TSA project (which many people did not give a chance of success, by the way), we have been careful to respect the terms of our 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.
For emphasis, we wish 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.
It may also be instructive to note 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% 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.
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, etc. In it all, we 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.
On a last note, we thank the Senate for its avowed commitment to preserving 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 us particularly during these times.