Power sector probe: Generating more heat than light – Mohammed Haruna

No Comments » April 1st, 2008 posted by // Categories: Energy Development Project



 

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Power sector probe: Generating more heat than light

Written by Mohammed Haruna   

Wednesday, 02 April 2008

Easily the most sensational news to come out of the just-concluded public hearing into the energy crisis in the country by the House of Representatives Committee on Energy under the chairmanship of Honourable Ndudi Godwin Elumelu was the allegation that ENERGO NIGERIA LTD, a company chaired by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, got an inflated contract of N19.5 billion, got paid 75% of the sum and has so far delivered less than 10% of the job. Worst of all, the company was reportedly not registered to do business in Nigeria.

There were of course other allegations about fake companies collecting over six billion naira for no job done, about consultants collecting monies and not even visiting project sites.

None of these stories, however, compares with the allegation that a former head of state would lend his name to fraud. As chief press secretary to General Abubakar, I personally felt scandalised by the allegations. How, I asked myself, could he sell himself so cheaply?

As things turned out, none of the allegations was true; not, strictly speaking, the inflation of the contract, not the amount paid in advance, not the quantity of the job done and certainly not the allegation that the company was not registered to do business in Nigeria. And that, I fear, is symbolic of what may yet turn out to be the problem with the House Committee investigation of the energy crisis, which is that it may turn out to be essentially an exercise in scapegoating the wrong people and end up generating more heat than light.

Alhaji Balarabe Musa, former governor of Kaduna State and a leading opposition figure, put his finger on it when he said in effect in an interview in last weekend’s Saturday Vanguard that the investigation may turn out to be more entertainment than one giant step towards ending our energy crisis. The country, he pointed out, had been there before with such investigations into the Petroleum Technology Development Fund not so long ago and the more recent one into the former Speaker of the House, Mrs Patricia Etteh’s award of inflated contracts for renovating her official quarters and that of her deputy. In both cases, the guilty parties were identified but no punishments to fit their “crimes” were recommended.

“They (members of the House)”, Alhaji Balarabe said in the interview, “have the power to do what they are doing. But what we doubt is whether it will amount to anything, whether it will lead to any correction.”

The most obvious indication that the House investigation into the energy crisis runs the danger of being more entertainment than substance was its kid-glove handling of the two most important figures in the crisis compared to its seeming acceptance at face value of the sensational allegations against companies like ENERGO. The key figures in the crisis, without doubt, are former energy minister and now the governor of Cross River State, Mr Liyel Imoke, and “Madam Due Process” and now a vice president at the World Bank, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili.

The allegations against ENERGO, for example, were serious and they required a better quality of proof than the mere say-so of the man who first made them on the second day of the House Committee hearing, namely Mr G. Osakwe, the Chief Executive Officer of the TCN. When ENERGO’s managing director, Mr Dejan Jerotic, came to testify the following day, the committee seemed more interested in who was its chairman than in whether or not Mr Osakwe’s allegations were true. Consequently, Mr Jerotic was not given the chance to state his side of the story.

And when he eventually got the chance to do so the following week and he presented the committee with facts, figures and documents to prove the allegations wrong, the committee treated his rebuttal with disinterest. Not surprising the press took its cue from the committee and gave Mr Jerotic’s testimony the short shrift. Compare all this to the almost deferential manner in which the committee, and by extention, the press, handled Mr Imoke and Mrs Ezekwesili.

To begin with “Madam Due Process”, this was a lady who built her reputation on the claim of making the Federal Government accountable to the people in all its spending. The more strident the criticisms that her Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) was yet another avenue for graft and waste, the more stoutly she defended it.

In press interviews after press interviews, she told the world that the BMPIU saved Nigerians billions of naira as a result of its due diligence on pricing and implementation of contracts. On several occasions, she claimed BMPIU saved Nigerians in 2004 alone as much as 290 billion naira. She also claimed that because of BMPIU, Nigerians were getting 80-85 kobo value for every naira government spent compared to 45 kobo before. All this, she once said in the now rested Comet of October 25, 2004, was because of the “professionally-driven, expertise-oriented job that I do with my colleagues.”

In the same interview, she had nothing but praise for her boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo. “The president” she said, “always knew that one of the challenges of governance in Nigeria has been this contractocracy that people stopped caring about vision, about policy, about strategy in the public sector and instead put all their focus on transactions which is contract. And look at what it cost us in two decades. It cost us big time.”

For the same woman to now turn around and try to wash her hands off the scandal surrounding Obasanjo’s energy contracts and virtually blame it all on him, as she has done before the House Committee hearing, is to insult our intelligence collectively and individually.

However, what I found most disconcerting was the way the committee allowed her to get away with her insult. The most obvious question the committee should have asked her was what did she do when every rule of government contracts was being violated by her peers and by her boss? Why did she always paint a rosy picture of government’s transparency and accountability when she knew all along that things were far from rosy?

If the committee allowed “Madam Due Process” to get away with insulting our intelligence, it did worse in the case of Imoke, who, first as energy adviser to Obasanjo and subsequently as energy minister, was the single most important person, bar the president himself, in the energy crisis.

As Thisday said in a lengthy feature article it did on the hearings in its edition of March 22, Imoke’s testimony, far from shedding any light on the crisis, was an “anti-climax.” The man simply lectured the committee on why there has been no light after all these years and after all the hundreds of billions of naira he and his boss spent. He simply refused to accept any responsibility for the gap between expenditure and result.

As with Ezekwesili, he too was not taken to task for all the promises he made particularly the one that as a result of their spending, the country will have 10,000MW of electricity by May 2007. And then to add insult to injury, the man had the audacity to tell us that it will take even years before we begin to see any light at the end of the dark tunnel he and his boss have plunged us into.

One reason for this, he said, is that the country’s entire gas production for the next 25 years has been sold out to customers abroad. The simple question is: if he knew all this, why did he not advise the government against investing as heavily as it did in gas turbines?

There can be no gainsaying the fact that Nigerians have not received value for what their government has spent ostensibly to end the darkness into which they have been plunged, with all its implications for their economic well-being. However, the way the House Committee on Energy has gone about it, we may end up blaming the wrong people for the crisis as a result of which the country may remain in darkness for a long time.

 

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