The Punch reports that there was a mild drama in the Senate on Wednesday during the public hearing on the alleged abuse and mismanagement of the Treasury Single Account when the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, denied knowledge of the payment of N8bn to SystemSpec, the owners of the Remita software on which the TSA runs.
The Senate joint committees on Finance, Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions and Public Accounts had summoned Emefiele and others to explain their roles in the engagement of the firm and the alleged payment of N25bn to it as remittance fees.
It was alleged that the e-collection agent was paid N25bn by the CBN, being one per cent of the N2.5tn revenue paid into the TSA domiciled with the CBN.
But Emefiele stunned the panel when he denied knowledge of any agreement between the central bank and SystemSpec, and even went further to say that the payment of the remittance fees was without his knowledge.
The CBN governor said, “The truth is that I will like to confess that I did not really know, because I have to say what I know, that there is one per cent charge being taken on that account until the Senate and the House of Representatives raised it when we were summoned to the office of the Senate President.
“I sounded very surprised at that session and I promised that I was going to look into it. Indeed, I asked who is Mr. Obaro (SystemSpec’s managing director) and what is this N25bn about? I am very surprised because I didn’t know anything about it.
“It was immediately after that that I swung into action and I discovered that the issue raised in the office of the Senate President was right and I immediately called the MD of SystemSpec to find out who he was, and I insisted that the money had to be reversed. Immediately after that, it was reversed.”
Idris also denied any agreement between his office, the CBN and SystemSpec, maintaining that he never signed any document on the deal.
He said, “As far as I am concerned, there is no agreement between the CBN and our office that is duly signed. As far as I am concerned, my office has not made any payment to any service provider with respect to moving the TSA.
“We have not made any payment. We have not engaged anybody and, therefore, we have not paid anybody. I don’t have any reason to hide any information; what I told you is what I know.”
Both Emefiele and Idris nevertheless told the committee that the involvement of SystemSpec was supposed to be a stopgap measure because the software being developed by the CBN was not capable of carrying out the responsibility as of the time the agreement was signed.
Emefiele, however, said that the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System had now been fully developed and was ready to carry out the same service currently being provided by SystemSpec through the Remita software.
The Chairman of the committee, Senator John Enoh, wondered how SystemSpec was paid the remittance fees when both the CBN boss and the AOGF denied involvement in the deal.
But the Managing Director, SystemSpecs Limited, Mr. John Obaro, said that former deputy governors of the CBN, Mr. Tunde Lemo and Mr. John Ayo, signed the contract on behalf of the Inter Departmental Committee of the central bank.
He also said that the N8bn remittance fees on the N1.419tn collected through the Remita platform was duly approved by the CBN but was refunded at the request of the bank when following the involvement of the Senate.
Obaro said, “We are licensed by the CBN as a PSP to provide the Remita e-Payment and e-Collection platform in Nigeria. This predates the adoption of Remita to serve as the payment gateway for the TSA.
“In October 2011, after a rigorous evaluation process by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, with support from their foreign consultants, Remita was selected ahead of local and foreign options to provide the electronic payment technology to power the Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account initiative.
“Mr. Chairman sir, as you would have seen from the documents earlier sent to you, SystemSpecs has a valid contract with the CBN for the provision of the payment gateway that supports payment and collection of government revenue.
“The fees were discussed by all stakeholders, set by the CBN and OAGF, communicated to all by the CBN, and included in our contract. We did not charge above the agreed rates.
“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.”