When Ifeoluwa Bakare went to the bank to pay some money into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the Federal Government on 7th, October 2017, she met a brick wall. She was told that she needs to bring a certain number from the Ministry of Health to the bank before her payment could be processed.
It was Friday, and her mother who was ill could not access treatment on that day because Ifeoluwa could not get all the details she needed to make the payment until the next working day, Monday. She had arrived the bank at 3.45pm and there was nothing she could do.
“I was surprised and confused at the same time,” says Ifeoluwa, a 21-year-old seamstress who resides in the Yaba area of Lagos. She had made payments into the TSA before without any confusion or stress.
On the Friday in which she could not make the payment, what held her back was a directive from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The directive instructed commercial banks not to process any payment that was not accompanied by a GIFMIS Revenue Reference Number beginning from 1st, October 2017. GIFMIS is the acronym for Government Integrated Financial Management Information System Number.
But before the abrupt implementation of the policy, government had not taken the time to sensitise ordinary Nigerians about the workings of GIFMIS, why it was important to adopt it as part of the TSA policy and how they could access the Revenue Reference Numbers which are a veritable part of GIFMIS. Therefore, most Nigerians got to know of the new policy in the hundreds of banking halls across the country on 1st, October 2017. Many were surprised.
“It was as though we were being taken back to the era where we had to queue in hot government offices to make payments for services,” Ifeolwa says.
“This Remita TSA thing which the government introduced saved us that stress, but the abrupt introduction of GIFMIS, kind of took us back a bit, in the first few days of implementation. It could have been better if we were better informed,” she says.
What is GIFMIS
But GITMIS is not new. It has been around since 2003. GIFMIS is owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria and domiciled in the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF).
The whole concept of GIFMIS was borne out of a desire to make government budgeting and revenue collection more transparent and efficient. It is also designed to improve the management, performance and outcomes of Public Financial Management (PFM).
The GIFMIS system has assigned numbers to all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. So for instance, in the case of Ifeoluwa, when she had to make a health related payment, she was required to provide the Revenue Reference Number of the health ministry so that whatever fund she was paying could be attributed to the ministry of health in TSA.
How was GIFMIS announced?
A circular emanating from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on 25, September 2017 directed all commercial banks collecting money on behalf of government to stop collection from customers who do not have the GIFMIS Revenue Reference Number.
Incidentally, Ifeoluwa was stunned at the bank five days after the implementation of the directive. She didn’t even know about the changes, same with thousands of Nigerians.
According to the circular sent by the CBN, “In order to properly classify receipts and ease reconciliation, the OAGF has now introduced a GIFMIS revenue reference Number for all revenue collected on behalf of MDAs for Federal government through Remita Platform into the TSA.”
The reason given for the swift move was that it had become “almost impossible for the OAGF to reconcile revenues collected to the TSA.”
The implementation of GIFMIS is a brilliant idea, but the path through which the policy was implemented showed a lack of sensitivity to the plight of Nigerians who have had to go through the pain and shock of being told that they needed a number to pay for services which some of them needed urgently.
What made it more destressing is that the circular said that “the GIFMIS Revenue Reference Number shall be provided by the respective MDAs to the revenue payer to enable them remit the funds.” So most people looking to make payments were confused about the prospect of going to Abuja to get the reference numbers! Such was the level of misconception that the sudden change in policy invoked.
Although many Nigerians who use TSA have found a way to pay without the hassles (by getting the reference Number Online), since they now have the GIFMIS Reference Numbers, many still face challenges.
The entire process through which GIFMIS was introduced points to the fact that when it comes to policy implementation, Nigeria has some improvement to make.
The People-Policy mismatch
But people who will be affected by a policy should be involved in the process of making, testing and implementing it. While the OAGF said it had notified the MDAs about the imminent of implementation of GIFMIS, what effort was made to enlighten those citizens who were to be affected by the policy daily?
Where there adverts in the newspapers explaining the changes and the methods of adapting to the changes? Where there TV jingles to orientate people? Where there interviews on television to enlighten the masses? Clearly, there was no strategy to sensitise the people.
For a policy as complex and important as GIFMIS there should have been at least a townhall meeting which should have brought members of the House of Representative adhoc committee on TSA, representatives of the finance ministry, OAGF, Systemspecs as well as other Nigerians together.
At such a forum, all questions and misunderstanding would have been cleared by those that are in position of authority. The responsibility of putting this event together should ideally rest with the finance ministry, OAGF or the ad-hoc committee.
If the adhoc committee deems it fit to organise a hearing on the implementation of TSA, it should also be at the forefront of pushing periodic townhall meeting that would demystify Nigerians about developments with the TSA policy. There is not a reason why the finance ministry cannot do the same.
But it is not too late. There are still a lot of misconceptions which can be corrected in more creative ways.