Let power expenditure probe count this time – Punch

Just a decade after the Sixth House of Representatives probed the Federal Government’s reported $16 billion expenditure on improving electricity supply in the country in eight years without the expected result, another probe is about to get under way. This time, it will cover all the administrations from 1999 till date. It must not be bogged down by politics.

Triggered by a motion from Sada Soli, the House said there was the need to review the expenditure on power sector to ensure sustenance of the reform, especially as its overhaul has spanned two decades without commensurate benefits. Lamentations from the organised private sector and Nigerians about how the country’s economy has buckled as a result of perennial power shortages and the disputed amount spent, especially between 1999 and 2007, and lack of sanctions against the contractors who sabotaged government efforts justify the fresh inquest.

Public expenditure on power since 1999 resembles the 2012 fuel subsidy scam: an acre of diamond for treasury looters. This should not be so in a country that is in dire need of economic development. The House probe committee is to determine the number of contracts awarded; payments made, and the stage of execution of each contract. The Omotosho phase II, Papalanto phase II; Alaoji phase II, aspects of the Mambilla and Zungeru hydro projects, Omoku, Egbema power expansions and other Niger Delta Power Holding Company Projects, among others, had benefited from government’s earlier capital outlay.

However, the execution of some went bizarre. It is unfortunate that the country moved on as if nothing was amiss. The Ndudi Elumelu-led House 2008 ad hoc committee investigation into the alleged $16 billion power expenditure was beamed live on television with revealing details:  how contractors without the required technical capacity collected multibillion naira contracts, which ended up being abandoned nationwide; gross abuse of due process, orchestrated by highly placed government officials, which resulted in up to between 80 and 100 per cent of the contract sums paid to contractors, were striking. This is a gross violation of the Public Procurement Act.

The Elumelu panel established over-scoping of transmission lines or dubious increase in the length of their kilometres, for the purpose of contract inflation; over-payments, and contract abandonment. In one incident, an NIPP transmission line of 167 kilometres was awarded as 240 kilometres. The panel described the N13 billion so far paid for the work as undeserved, “for what would have been 100 per cent payment of the actual project.” Some contractors collected money and never executed any contracts at all. Ultimately, the panel recommended all fraudulent transactions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission for further investigation and prosecution.

But it beggars belief that the anti-graft agencies failed to act on the brazen pillaging of the treasury even with facts that are self-evident. Now is the time for them to wake up. The Elumelu report will be handy to any of the agencies serious about recovering ill-gotten power contract funds. In fact, it lays a solid foundation for the new House probe. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, had decried the $16 billion power expenditure bazaar as the underpinning of Nigeria’s endless darkness and economic setback.

The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, should be conscious of the fact that the previous report was sacrificed on the altar of dirty politics and leadership deficit. It is incredible that a report with such weight of sordid details was swept under the carpet, no matter what might have been its shortcomings. The Eighth Senate too, carried out a power probe, which achieved nothing. A third from the National Assembly, therefore, should be made to count. Instructively, given the zero score card of lawmakers in their oversight of the treasury, the public perception is that any probe they conduct is not driven by altruistic considerations. Therefore, all eyes will be on that investigation.

At the 2015 Senate power probe, the then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Godknows Igali, put power funding since 1999 at N2.7 trillion. The then Managing Director, NDPHC, James Olotu, said the NIPPs had gulped $8.23 billion and were funded from the Excess Crude Account, rather than from ministry allocations as some people erroneously thought. A former Minister of Power, Chinedu Nebo, in highlighting the malaise in the sector since 1999, said in the 10 years to 2014, the country had spent $3.5 billion annually on the sector.

Despite these expenditures, electricity generation, transmission and distribution in the country are not up to scratch. Nigeria’s current supply is about 4,000 megawatts, despite its generation capacity of 13,000MW. The Buhari government sealed an agreement in July with the German power giant, Siemens, to ramp up generation to 25,000MW by 2025. First, the company is expected to provide steady 7,000MW by 2021 and 11,000MW by 2023. Even if these targets are achieved, the total available supply pales into insignificance when compared with South Africa. According to Power Africa fact sheet, it has a total of 51,309 megawatts, comprising 46,777MW from thermal and 4,533MW from renewable energy sources.

Strikingly, the House probe coincides with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project’s court victory on the matter recently. The non-profit, using the Freedom of Information Act, secured a judgement against the Federal Ministry of Power. The judgement delivered by Chuka Obiozo of a Federal High Court, Lagos, requires the ministry to publish details of payment to power contractors between 1999 and 2007; the level of contract implementation and those who bolted away with the money after collection, while also giving SERAP the document.

The legislature and SERAP enquiries are significant given that public accountability, due process and rule of law define governance in a democracy. Buhari, therefore, should insist on the anti-grant agencies performing their duties. The danger in sweeping the power projects sleaze under the carpet is that it will create cohorts that are above the law.

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