• Accountant General: It’s a lie, we wrote you


Mild drama ensued yesterday during the Senate investigation into the alleged N25billion commission paid on Treasury Single Account, TSA to an e-collection agent, REMITA, when the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Governor, Dr. Godwin Emefiele and the Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, Alhaji Ahmmed Idris, disagreed on the one percent commission.
They spoke at the inaugural public hearing on the “Abuse and Mismanagement of Treasury Single Account, TSA Regime” organised by the Senate Joint Committees on Finance; Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions; and Public Accounts, held at the National Assembly complex in Abuja.
Both Emefiele and Idris shocked the committee chaired by Senator John Owan Enoh (PDP Cross River Central) when they denied knowledge of the one percent approved charge for the TSA remittances through REMITA, owned by Mr. John Obaro.
The CBN Governor, who agreed that the one percent commission was high, claimed ignorance of the percentage, saying he was only aware of the arrangement after the decision of Senate to investigate the alleged N25billion paid as commission to the e-collection agent, Systemspecs, following a motion on urgent national importance raised by Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), recently.
He disclosed that the charges claimed by REMITA and others was just about N8 billion and not N25billion as alleged, out of the N800 billion remitted into the TSA account then.
Emefiele explained that it was after the discovery and investigation ordered by the Senate that he immediately directed the company to refund the money paid into its account, and which was complied with.
According to him, REMITA was only used to transfer about N800 billion before the fees were suspended and the monies already collected asked to be refunded.
“It was after the money was moved from the commercial banks to the CBN that the one percent was taken. However, the monies realised have been put together by the three companies involved and paid back to the MDAs”, he said.
Emefiele further explained that the company Systemspecs which designed the platform of REMITA was to take 50 percent of the fee while the commercial banks got 40 percent and the CBN kept the remaining 10 percent.
Reacting to inquests on the agreement signed, the AGF Ahmed Idris however said that he was not aware of any agreement between the CBN, the OAGF and Systemspecs.
Idris said that he had refused to sign the document requesting for payment of the one percent to the company and as such blamed the CBN for the payment.
“Since my assumption as AGF, no monies have been sent via the OAGF. There was no agreement between the OAGF and the Central Bank; I am not part and my office is not part of this payment.
“We have not engaged anybody and have not paid anybody; I have also said what I know. We did not even know how much was charged: if the CBN Governor says he does not know, then how will the Accountant General know?” he queried.
But the Managing Director of SystemSpecs, owner of the REMITA e-collection platform, Mr John Obaro, submitted to the committee with relevant documents, agreement between the firm, the CBN and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF, for the e- collection exercise and one over cent charges.
He said: SystemSpecs has a valid contract with CBN for the provision of the Payment Gateway that supports payment and collections of Government revenue.
“The fees were discussed by all stakeholders, set by CBN and OAGF, communicated to all by the CBN and included in our contract. We did not charge above the agreed rates,” he said.
He explained that the one percent charge was not for REMITA alone but shared along with CBN itself and other Deposit MoneyBanks on the ratio of 50% for REMITA, 40% for other Deposit Money Banks and the remaining 10 percent for CBN.
The SystemSpec boss, who gave graphic details of how his firm ran into troubled waters with CBN over the charges, lamented that the latest development portrayed them as being used and dumped by the federal government on the laudable exercise.
His words: “On September 14, 2015, the OAGF had expressed concern at a project review meeting about the fees, considering the enlarged scope of the project. SystemSpecs was not averse to price renegotiation. We wrote to the CBN that we are open to renegotiation and that an all stakeholders meeting be convened.
“Three weeks later, on October 7, we wrote again that an all stakeholders meeting should be convened to review processing fees.
“Two weeks later, on October 27, we were instructed by the CBN to refund all fees that have accrued to us in accordance with the contract.
“We strategically chose to comply within 24 hours of receipt of their letter as we did not want to allow the issue of fees in the heat of the moment to becloud the work we have done in the delivery of TSA for Nigeria. While refunding our own portion of the fees as demanded by the CBN, however, we accompanied the refund with a fairly worded letter stating why the fees legitimately earned in line with our contract should be refunded to us.
“On November 11, two weeks after refunding all fees and operating zero fees at the risk of a legal battle with other stakeholders, without hearing our own side of the story, we were erroneously accused of fraud, abuse and mismanagement of the TSA on the hallowed chambers of this highly respected Senate.
“To say the least sir, we feel used, abused, unappreciated and abandoned by the country for which we stuck out our necks and faith to deliver the platform that made the TSA possible, which in other climes, all citizens would be proud of, acclaimed, encouraged and motivated to further the frontiers of greater technological breakthroughs and innovation”, he stressed.
The chairman of the joint committee stressed that no matter how much money was involved, one percent charge was too exorbitant for the job.
He commended all parties who made presentation for opening up and directed that all commercial banks not represented must be present at the next hearing of the committee on the matter.
Earlier in his keynote address, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, expressed the commitment of the 8th Senate to work with and support the Executive arm in its effort to improve the lives of Nigerians.
“We are together with the Executive on the need to curb waste and plug all loopholes in our revenue and expenditure streams. We are equally concerned and are exploring ways of shoring up the national revenues in spite of the persistent fall in the oil price in the international market.
“We embrace these challenges as we believe that it will more than anything enable us to think outside of the box to draw up innovative solutions that would strengthen our institutions and the economy at large”, he stressed.