Contrary to the alarm raised by the Senate over the alleged illegality and exorbitant commission charged for the deployment of Remita, an e-payment software used for the transfer of Federal Government’s funds from financial institutions into a single treasury account (TSA), PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that the use of the software is not only legal but also represents a drastic cut of the commission previously charged by banks for collection of government revenues.
Also, findings reveal that the commission collected by SystemSpecs, the owners/developers of Remita, is nowhere near the N25billion Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) alleged to have been collected by the firm.
It was Mr. Melaye who originally moved the motion on the Senate floor for the payment to be investigated.
Last Wednesday, following Mr. Melaye’s motion, the senate ordered its committee on finance and public accounts to immediately commence an investigation into the use of Remita (which it erroneously described as an e-collection agent) for remitting government funds into the TSA, and its alleged collection of N25 billion commission being one per cent of the alleged N2.5 trillion it remitted into the TSA.
Mr. Melaye had argued that the use of Remita was a violation of Section 162(1) of the constitution, which stated that “the federation shall maintain a special account to be called the federation account into which all revenues collected by the government of the federation except the proceeds from the personal income tax of the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force, the ministry or department of government charged with foreign affairs and the residents of the FCT, Abuja”.
Mr. Melaye further stated that the Central Bank of Nigeria could only appoint a registered bank as an agent for collecting and disbursing the funds.
He said that since Remita was not a bank, its appointment as a collection agent was in violation of the CBN Act and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2007.
According to him, Remita collected N25 billion “for doing nothing.”
However, documents, including the service agreement between SystemSpecs and CBN, correspondence between the company and the office of the Accountant General/ CBN as well as a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, show that not only was the commission charged backed by law, it is shared by the company, commercial banks and the CBN.
Although the commission is nowhere near the exaggerated N25 billion touted by Mr. Melaye, the one per cent charge also represents a drastic reduction from between the two per cent and 46 per cent commission charged by commercial banks in some instances for collecting government revenues.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the CBN Director for public communications, Ibrahim Muazu, dismissed the amount quoted on the floor of the senate as “completely misleading.”
“That is false. That is false,” he repeated for emphasis.
“It is grossly exaggerated. We are talking of one per cent. What is one per cent of the money? Have we collected up to a trillion? That is a completely misleading information. Even at the beginning of the TSA the estimation of all the movement of federal government funds into the account is N1.2 trillion,” he added.
When asked to tell the total amount moved into the TSA, Mr Muazu said: “I cannot give you the exact amount now but I know it is far, far, far lower than N2.5 trillion.”
According to the service agreement between the parties, signed by Eunice Ikekhuah and Aderemi Atanda of SystemSpecs on December 4, 2013, and H.M Yusuf and R.A Olaniyan of the CBN on December 11, 2013, Systemspecs and the CBN agreed to deploy Remita, a T24 banking application, for executing payment instructions and collection of government revenue.
Apart from the collection of revenue, Remita is also used for payment of salaries, payment of taxes, payment of pension, payroll processing biometric verification, among other uses.
In a letter dated November 6, 2015, to Mr. Buhari, SystemSpecs explained that “all commercial banks and over 400 Micro Finance Banks in Nigeria” are connected to the software. The company also explained that 705 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) are currently using the software as payment and collection platform.
So, contrary to Mr Melaye’s argument in the senate, Remita is indeed a software that facilitates the payment of government revenue from financial institutions to a TSA in the CBN and not a revenue collection agent.
Also, contrary to Mr. Melaye’s submission, the entire one per cent commission does not go to SystemSpecs. The commission is shared by the CBN, commercial banks, and the CBN.
“A tariff of 1% of the funds collected shall be charged for the government revenue collections: i. Platform Owner/SystemSpecs: 50%, ii. Collecting Agents/DMBs (banks): 40%, iii. Introducer? CBN: 10%,” the agreement reads.
SystemSpecs further explained that at a seminar organised by the CBN and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) May27-28, 2013, it actually proposed a commission of 1.5 per cent, It explained that commercial banks actually proposed 5 per cent, while a committee set up by the CBN and the OAGF proposed 2.5 per cent.
It explained that it was the then Accountant-General of the Federation that actually overruled all the suggested commission and reduced it to one per cent.
However, the company said it was surprised to receive a letter from the CBN, signed by Dipo Fatokun, Director, Banking and Payments System Department, on October 27, 2015, directing it to refund all charges it collected from MDAs for implementation of the TSA.
“I have been directed to inform you that you should refund all charges (1% cost of collection) made into the MDAs accounts as a result of the implementation of the TSA,” the letter reads.
“The total amount should be credited into the account mentioned below:
“FGN Revenue e-Collection Pool Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria Account Number: 0020054161043
“Since the cost of the collection must have been shared by all the stakeholders, you are hereby required to also provide a schedule of the total amount collected and the portion that was shared to each of the three participants. The schedule should be prepared on month by month basis, from the commencement of the TSA implementation in March 2015, to date. We will recover the share to the CBN and the DMBs,” the letter explains.
SystemSpecs explained that after the kick off of the TSA, following a deadline announced by Mr Buhari, the OAGF invited it for a meeting where it was told that following the enlarged scope of the TSA, the government wanted to review the charges.
“We wrote to the CBN to give a brief on the meeting with OAGF and said inter-alia that, while on our part, SystemSpecs is not averse to a review of the existing transaction fee to a figure that is agreeable to all parties, we would however advise of the need to carry along the DMBs as you will recall that the current fees were agreed with the banks and communicated by CBN via a circular in December 2013,” the firm stated in a letter to the CBN governor.
REDUCTION OF COST
In the same letter to the CBN Governor, SystemSpecs further explained that the one per cent charge actually represents a drastic reduction of the amount the Federal Government had to pay for the collection of its revenue before the implementation of the TSA.
“Your Excellency will recall that one of the primary focus of the TSA project is to retrieve funds from the banks who were indirectly lending the government money back to government at about 15%. Hidden cost to government? Arguably 15%.
“Remita provided a technology to empower government retrieve her funds immediately customers pay at Deposit Money Banks. No overnight stay at any bank. Is 1% to be shared by all parties really too high to pay for such a service?”
For instance, the firm explained, banks charge as high as 46 per cent for National Open University (NOUN) charges, nine per cent for Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) fees, and six per cent on Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) National Drivers’ License charges.
Thus in its letter to the President, SystemSpecs appealed for the return of its fees and those earned by the partner banks seized by the CBN.
Mr. Muazu corroborated SystemSpecs narratives during the telephone chat with PREMIUM TIMES.
“The information you are given is in line with the agreement dating back to 2011. That is a fact. They started it actually when the TSA came up. The one per cent was, yes, agreed at that time. But now with the issue at hand everything needs to be reviewed and agreed.
“But truly the banks, the CBN and themselves are stakeholders. What is it that we are talking about? It is the software or the platform. You can’t do everything free for doing any business. The banks that are doing the e-collection they pursue agencies and other sources of revenue. Not just taking the value. So it is actually an arrangement for the service to be provided. That software that is being used by the platform has to be maintained apart from the initial design,” he said.
He said the CBN asked SysytemSpecs to return the commission already collected to enable it renegotiate the terms of the contract.
“Now we are having a new arrangement. It’s not just e-collection. Central bank is now in charge of government revenue. So the old arrangement cannot continue. So when the issue started the central bank gave the order and the money were all paid back to the government.
“Look at it this way, you have a product that you are allowing someone to use, it can’t be free,” he said.