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Retracing BPE’s steps to efficiency

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 On Monday, April 22, 2013, the Nigerian government signed agreements with bid winners for the successor companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The event was held in the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. It was attended by the “who is who” in the power sector reform, including President Goodluck Jonathan who launched the reform on August 26, 2010.

The president’s attendance was particularly significant as it symbolised his political will backing that major milestone in a reform that has been characterised by uncertainty and sustained largely by the resolve of its supporters to stay the course despite odds that would otherwise be insurmountable. Also in attendance was a wide range of participants representing various stakeholder interests outside those agencies driving the reform, namely, the Ministry of Power, the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP), the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP), the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), etc.

The power reform is undoubtedly a collective, liberating, Nigerian project; and only the relentless cooperation of the above-named agencies charged with realising its transformative goals can break the yoke of darkness that has held Nigerians down in underdevelopment, victims of evil forces that profiteer from their mass suffering, of “cabals that don’t want the power sector to heal in Nigeria”, and of “people who are benefitting from Federal Government’s funds that were supposed to be used to address issues but are not used”, to quote Chinedu Nebo, the minister of power, in a recent interview.

Like the roles of the above-named agencies, the role of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is pivotal to the success of the power sector reform, perhaps more so than many realise. For instance, the efforts of all the other agencies working for the success of the reform would be futile if in the end the BPE, by omission or commission, puts the PHCN successor companies in the hands of incompetent companies, whose ineptitude could result in a meltdown of the entire power system post-privatisation.

It is perhaps in recognition of this fact that President Jonathan has repeatedly urged the BPE to do due diligence on the prospective buyers of the PHCN successor companies and ensure that they are sold only to reliable and competent ones. “We must give to the best. The BPE will never make the mistake to give this to companies that cannot perform,” stressed the president while speaking at a power sector stakeholder’s forum in September 2011.

However, in spite of such exhortations from high places, events associated with the power reform and the BPE’s conduct of the privatisation programme generally has not always been perceived by many, and sometimes rightly, as above-board. A case in point would be the alleged irregularities associated with the bid for Afam Power plc. It is perhaps with reference to the negative impact of such incidents as the botched Afam bid that President Jonathan was once quoted in Sahara Reporters as having admitted that “the whole story about privatisation has not been as successful as Nigerians expected it to be”.

Neither does there seem to be a lack of commitment on the part of those driving the reform, including the BPE, to turn a new leaf where necessary and improve the effort to sanitise the reform and related privatisation programme and make both successful.

I think, with hindsight, that a genuine case of such commitment was evident in the “Pre-Due Diligence Conference for the Re-Tender of Afam Power plc and Kaduna Electricity Distribution plc” organised by the BPE on Monday, March 4, 2013, at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja. In light of the taint on the earlier bid for the generation station at Afam, incidentally one of the PHCN successor companies, the conference signified an attempt by the BPE to retrace its steps to efficiency – and credibility.

The commitment was crystallised in certain sections of the address delivered by the acting director general of the BPE, Benjamin Ezra Dikki, at the conference, published on page 14 of BusinessDay of March 20, 2013. For instance, having recapitulated on why the need arose for the rebid following the earlier bid conducted by the BPE, Dikki said the development “compelled the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) to order a re-run of the entire transaction as it was not prepared to settle for a second best”. He also said in the address, and no less significantly, “We want to use this opportunity to urge all participants to play fair and play by the rules. As amply demonstrated by the on-going transaction for the other 15 PHCN successor companies, the NCP/BPE has zero tolerance for non-compliance with the terms of the Request for Proposals (RFP). Bids that are submitted late will be rejected immediately and proposals not submitted in substantial compliance with the terms of the RFP will also be disregarded. Our philosophy is that only the very best is good enough for Nigeria.”

Undoubtedly, what reportedly transpired with the previous bid for Afam Power plc, leading to its nullification, could not be described as the result of a desire not to “settle for the second best”, or “to play fair and by the rules”, or of “zero tolerance for non-compliance with the terms” of engagement in such bids, or a philosophy that “only the very best is not enough for Nigeria”. Such sound bites as “only the very best is good enough for Nigeria”, etc., from the address by the acting DG of the BPE inspires hope in the possibility of completing the power sector reform and the privatisation of the PHCN successor companies on a note of credibility, despite some negative occurrences along the way.

I had always thought that the famous saying credited to the Greek philosopher Socrates, that “an unexamined life in not worth living”, applies to individuals as well as organisations, since in both cases examining one’s conduct is a necessary step towards finding ways of improving it, and improving it invariably leads to improving how one is perceived by others. Need I add that how one is perceived by others can also impact on one’s fortunes?

Such sound bites, and the fact that the Afam re-bid has proven to be an uncontroversial improvement on the previous one, are for me signs that the BPE is capable of examining itself, its life, and changing tack towards improved efficiency, and integrity. And I can only hope it does so sustainably in order not to reverse any gains that may have accrued to the power reform and the country due to its improved conduct. 

 

Omotosho writes from Ibadan.

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