12 December 2018

Nigeria: TSA and the N20 Trillion Unremitted Stamp Duty Question

Abuja — It is good to note that the presidential directive to consolidate inflows from all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government into a unified account, known as the Treasury Single Account, TSA - has recorded countless strides in Nigeria's public financial regime within three years of its full implementation.

This is why it is shocking to hear that some federal agencies have been playing the ostrich by flouting this directive, diverting humongous amount of funds meant to be remitted into the TSA, and short-changing the government.

Messy details of how N20 trillion in revenue was unremitted in the last five years have elicited highly charged shock waves across the country, bringing to fore, the lack of commitment by some unscrupulous agencies in adhering to the TSA policy. The issue is made worse by the fact that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN;

Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF; Nigerian Interbank Settlement System, NIBSS; Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS and Nigerian Postal Service, NIPOST, the five agencies at the centre of this controversy, seem to be absolving themselves of any wrongdoing, with both FIRS and NIPOST buck-passing responsibility to account for the funds against each other.

The School of Banking Honours, SBH, a consulting agency authorised by the Federal Government in October 2017 to recover unremitted stamp duty, raised an alarm, calling out the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System, NIBSS, for its lack of cooperation in SBH's efforts to recover unremitted stamp duty amounting to $53.3 billion (N19.4 trillion) generated from inter-bank electronic transactions. This is in addition to the N7.719 trillion accumulated yet unremitted revenue to the federal and state governments of Nigeria which was due in 2015, all amounting to over N20 trillion.

However, the question is: where is the N20 trillion stamp duty money? Who was supposed to be remitting the money to the Stamp Duty Central Account domiciled in the CBN? Why was the money not remitted to the TSA? Who is to blame for this wanton breach of a crucial presidential directive that has offered the country the best option so far in managing appropriation, reconciliation and general operational control procedures in government finance?

It is very painful to see that while the TSA has made a lot of progress in managing government's finance, elements within the government are jeopardising this brilliant initiative because it does not favour their selfish interest. Government must, therefore, improve upon its will to ensure absolute compliance of this policy if it must be taken seriously in its fight against corruption.

Twenty trillion naira is twice the amount of Nigeria's 2018 budget, six times of Ghana's 2018 budget and is certainly not an amount of money any serious country in the world should allow being diverted out of its central account without a reasonable explanation for it.

Currently, TSA remains the singular most credible and undoubted programme of the current administration. Almost everyone can see and feel the positive impact of TSA on Nigeria's fiscal management regime.

However, the N20 trillion stamp duty controversy has landed a serious blow to this programme, causing many stakeholders to start questioning how really committed government is in pursuing TSA to its logical conclusion. The government must immediately direct the appropriate authorities to address this festering stain which has put a lot of questions on its celebrated medal. Whether anyone likes it or not, TSA has come to stay due to the many benefits which it carries.

An IMF study held that the consolidation of cash resources through a TSA arrangement facilitates government cash management by minimising borrowing costs and transaction costs during budget execution, notably by controlling the delay in the remittance of government revenues.

TSA also ensures efficient control and monitoring of funds allocated to various government agencies, facilitating better coordination with government's monetary policy implementation, while reducing the volatility of cash flows through the treasury, thus helping to meet unexpected fiscal volatility.

It is, however, condemnable that some agencies would throw caution to the wind, by keeping N20 trillion away from the Treasury Single Account.

The government needs to be more proactive in implementing this initiative in order to prevent subsequent breaches of this programme. There is a need for effective monitoring and control to ensure that all ministries, agencies and departments key into this policy in order to leave no stone unturned in the war against corruption.

Okunade, a public finance expert, wrote from Abuja

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