Mr. John Obaro, managing director, Systemspecs, the Information Technology firm that manages the Treasury Single Account (TSA) being implemented by the federal government of Nigeria.
Obaro was at Beacon of ICT Awards 2016 held recently where he won Software personality of the Year.
He took time out to speak on the controversy surrounding the TSA with selected journalists, chike onwuegbuchi was there.
The Unspoken Truth on TSA
TSA started very quietly and crept into the nation and by the time people woke up to realise the impact, they found out that very surprising that such a thing could happened. Today the government is in a position to know the total cash position at any point in time.
There was a time government had over 17,000 accounts in different banks that nobody even knew about all of them, so you now have a platform that can bring all of them together for government to say this is our cash position at this point in time.
Two, you are in a position to track all the payments going out of government, who moves what payments and who are the beneficiaries. In addition, everybody making payments to government you have data on the minute of such payment, you are able to keep track of everything on this platform.
Also in addition to that, you have a situation in the past were people will pretend to have made payment to government, and probably forged some receipts and get away with it, now it is no longer possible as every payment is verified online before service is provided. So, in terms of impact, this is a system that has really fundamentally changed many things. Well off-course, you will appreciate that to come in with a system in an environment like this, you do not expect everybody to clap for you, so that is the situation where we are in.
In addition to that many people don’t really understand what TSA is about, they don’t understand what is happening but there are also those people who know what you are doing and are determined to frustrate this TSA by frustrating the technology behind it why pretending to be supporting the noble course of TSA.
Government’s Savings with TSA
As at December 2015, over two trillion naira (N2,000 000 000 000)had come into the coffers of government.
And like our dear president said sometimes ago, in previous years at the end of year, somehow all these monies disappeared in one way or the other that nobody was unable to give proper account of it.
But now government knows they have over two trillion naira (N2,000 000 000) where you can decide how you want to genuinely use the money.
Also, before now all these funds were in commercial banks, government would go to commercial banks borrow money at 15% because they do not really know that these funds were there.
They just go to borrow at commercial banks and end up paying 15%. But now you have these monies in government coffers and you can imagine the type of savings that you are making not only because you don’t pay this kind of interest charges but because you now even have funds you can actually invest.
The Data Generated from TSA
When the TSA project was to start, nobody even understood the scope and nobody could give any form of statistics on the data that would come, saying how many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), what type of transaction would come from MDAs?
This was a contentious issue that was debated severally but with TSA now there is a lot of data flowing into government which now move to the next face; economic planning.
And now that you have these data, you can now begin to do a lot of economic planning with these data but unfortunately, unavoidable controversies of the last few months have been unnecessary because it is time to get down to real business and begin to use these data proactively for planning purposes.
Hosting TSA Data Outside the Country
When you talk about data hosting we very much believe in Nigeria and that is something that drives Systemspecs and all those who know who Systemspecs, recognize that we believe in Nigeria.
However, you need to also plan things properly; otherwise you will ride on a motion and crash when the chips are down.
In the first place when we started the TSA project, we did not have data centres in Nigeria. Now, yes, we have data centres in Nigeria and we have a work plan with the CBN that by the end of 2016, this things would have been migrated locally. What we don’t want is a situation where we just move abruptly and then crash the main system.
Cost Effective Way to Transfer TSA Hosting Back to Nigeria
Part of the challenge we have even with the local hosting is reliability and security. Those two things are the main drivers for why organizations host abroad today. Now the infrastructures are being developed locally to be able to develop these two major areas of concerns.
The third area of concern is cost. Cost is still an issue. The figure you get from the Nigeria providers are much significantly higher than what you get abroad.
Having said that, I believe working with government as they are doing, we would get the support to be able to address these concerns significantly such that asking people to host locally will not just be an emotional argument or economic argument but a compelling need.
As we speak for instance, you are aware of the controversies on the TSA project, very avoidable controversies over a one percent charge. When this one percent was discussed, nobody had an idea of the scope, no data was available, it was Remita that brought these data to the fore and were now able to see some huge sums and then there came the question that these figures are high. And then we said let’s renegotiate now that we have some data.
Our first letter that we are open to renegotiation was dated September 16, 2015. Instead of focusing on renegotiating a lot of noise eventually came up that one percent is too high.
Meanwhile, incidentally I just came back for Glasglow where I was given an award by the Africa Scotland forum recognising the kind of thing we are doing in Nigeria. The interesting thing is that when I got to the airport, the cab that took me had a bold sign on it; “for this payment channels a convenient charge of 5% be added.”
So, 5% is not an unusual figure in this industry. Here we are talking of 1% and we say we are open to renegotiation and then a lot of avoidable controversies is being made out of that. I want to believe that there is a lot of mischievous going on and one would then expect someone in a position to close this matter and focus on the real issues of benefits from the platform.
Trust in the system
I need to be honest that we were taking by surprise. This is because the worst that we thought would happened was that someone who wake up one day and say he does not want TSA but the beat about saying that there is fraud and abuse of the platform, that was a bit heavy and was sudden on us because for those who know Systemspecs one thing that drives us is our ethics.
The person you may call the doyen of ethics in Nigeria today Dr, Christopher Kolade is our chairman and has been our chairman for nine years. Some years ago, he resigned from all the other companies that he is involved with and he remain only with Systemspec, which should tell you something about the kind of values that we hold. So, for somebody to wake up and beginning to throw those kind of distractive words were demoralizing but soon we will come out of it as we understood these are people who want to bring down the TSA project and that we should not cooperate with them to make it happen.
And that is why not many people know we have been doing these collections without charging since all these controversies started.
Not only did we refund the fees from March last year, but since late October, all the collections on the platform, have not been charged. We are still waiting for government to close this conversation on the fee. The easiest thing for us to have done is to have stopped collecting that would have created an unnecessary crisis but we are collecting and waiting for some matured conversation to close that.