As Nigerians continue to support the Buhari administration on the firm order for the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account across all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, it is imperative for the administration to adopt a holistic approach to public finance management reforms. The good aspect of the TSA and most of the reforms that will be stated in this discourse is that they are already provided by law and policy. As such, the administration is not going on a voyage of discovery. Rather, it seeks to ensure the enforcement of existing but ignored laws.
The TSA provides the opportunity for the full enforcement of parts of Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution. Specifically, this establishes the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation which should be the recipient of all revenues or other money raised or received by the federation (not being revenues or other money payable under the constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the federation established for a specific purpose). The money shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. It further states that all expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the federation must be authorised by law and in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
The TSA will curb leakages in the system and ensure that all due revenues are brought to account and used for public purposes. This will reduce fiscal criminality and corruption which has led to revenue loss for the treasury. It will also reduce the cost of cash management and public borrowing considering that it gives treasury managers the overall picture of government’s cash position at any given time and helps the efficient allocation of resources across board to the MDAs.
However, it is imperative from the outset that the government thinks through the bottlenecks that may arise from the full implementation of the TSA and the ameliorative provisions of the FRA, so as to avoid giving the reform a bad name to discredit it. This is because if the TSA is not well-implemented, it will delay activities and projects across many the MDAs. As such, there will be all manner of calls for full or quasi-exemptions from the scheme. At the end of the day, poor implementation will defeat the ends of a very noble scheme. This is specifically important for agencies that are involved in big ticket transactions and transactions that require expeditious interventions and responses to industry challenges. The MDAs that are either self-funding, partly funded by appropriation and generate a lot of revenue come to mind. These agencies used to collect and manage their resources and remit operating surplus to the treasury at the end of the year. Clearly, beyond the legal provisions, the shortchanging of the treasury and the mismanagement of public resources for private gain by the managers of these agencies were some of the factors that led to the establishment of the TSA. The individuals benefitting from the old order should not be given reasons and excuses to seek to roll back the reforms.
Two key provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act are important for the full realisation of the objectives and benefits of the TSA. The relevant provisions are Sections 25 and 26 providing for the preparation of the Annual Cash Plan and Budget Disbursement Schedule. In Section 25 of the FRA, the Federal Government through the Accountant-General of the Federation is to prepare then Annual Cash Plan which shall be prepared in advance of the financial year setting out projected monthly cash flows and shall be revised periodically to reflect actual cash flows. The preparation of the Annual Cash Plan will facilitate budget implementation because it will evolve from a Cash Management Policy and will partly inform inflows into the TSA, outflows and actual release and disbursements to the MDAs. To underpin the Annual Cash Plan will be the Cash Plan of the respective revenue generating and spending MDAs.
The provision for the Budget Disbursement Schedule in Section 26 is also very important for the TSA. It mandates the Minister of Finance, within 30 days after the enactment of the budget to prepare and publish a Budget Disbursement Schedule derived from the Annual Cash Plan for the purpose of implementing the budget. This Schedule should be underpinned and informed by the projected Financing and Implementation Schedule of all MDAs. For a budget to meet its targets, there should be a systematic financing programme that takes into account the special and strategic needs of the spending agencies. A haphazard release of funds or the denial of funding when an agency needs it most had been the bane of budget implementation. Thus, the Annual Cash Plan and Budget Disbursement Schedule will introduce the element of predictability in disbursement of appropriated funds.
Unfortunately, in the past, neither the Accountant-General nor the Minister for Finance did their duty as provided by the FRA. At no time did they prepare the required documents. When challenged in a suit in court, the immediate past Minister of Finance merely divided the MDA budgets into four – the four quarterly releases and presented the same as the Budget Disbursement Schedule. If in all honesty, this is the idea of the Ministry of Finance of a Budget Disbursement Schedule, we do not need to look far to explain the failure of succeeding Nigerian federal budgets. If for instance, you simply divide the capital budget of the Ministry of Agriculture into four and release them in equal instalments, you will be releasing money for seeds, fertilisers and general farm implements at a time they have been overtaken by events.
It is also important for the Executive to ensure that Nigerians get fully informed of the gains and benefits from this scheme and other fiscal reforms as it unravels. For instance, quarterly briefings on how much have been saved by the scheme will be imperative. The Ministry of Finance and the Budget Office of the Federation need to take their duties under the FRA seriously. They are under the law bound to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the budget and report on a quarterly basis to the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and Joint Finance Committee of the National Assembly. The report is to be published in the mass and electronic media not later than 30 days after the end of each quarter. Unfortunately, the Budget Office of the Federation has neglected to perform this duty as the last available report is for the second quarter of 2014! This is unacceptable and a clear dereliction of duty.
In the final analysis, the full implementation of the TSA is a step in the right direction. But it needs to be noted that the idea is now new. It has been around since the administration of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan. What will separate the outgone administrations and the current one will be the commitment and political will to make it succeed despite all odds. Good job Mr. President.