Nigeria: EFCC, ICPC, FIRS Move Against Power Distribution Companies

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The anti-graft agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Offences Commission (ICPC) – as well as the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) have launched an onslaught on the 11 distribution companies (DISCOs) in Nigeria, New Telegraph has learnt. Specifically, this newspaper gathered that the trio had, over the past few weeks, sought a forensic audit of the DISCOs’ financials for the past five years when they took over power assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The assets were, on Friday, November 1, 2013, handed over to investors who had coughed out $1.2 billion (N427 billion).

The dotted lines were signed, which among other things, promised to rescue millions of Nigerians from the jaws of epileptic power supply, decayed infrastructure, crazy billing and other vices that characterized the PHCN years. The first order for new owners of the power assets to submit their financials for audit was conveyed by the FIRS in a letter to the 11 utility firms. Another group from FIRS also requested for agreement they signed with the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), which they also obliged. Next came the EFCC, which asked for the DISCOs’ expenses from the time they took over till date. And just last week, the ICPC, it was learnt, wrote similar letter to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company demanding for its accounts. Referring to these moves as “onslaught,” a source in one of the DISCOs told New Telegraph that there had also been several threats and attempts to compel the DISCOs to sack its umbrella body – Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), which is perceived to be vocal.

The power investors believe that the probe was being instigated by the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. There had been series of disagreements, diatribes and frustration between the Federal Government through the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) and the DISCOs. Besides, the Federal Government, it was alleged, is trying to build up more equity in the DISCOs through the purchase of pre-paid meters – a move strongly resisted by the latter. Contacted last night, media aide to the minister, Mr. Hakeem Bello, could not be reached by phone and neither did he reply a text message sent to him to get the ministry’s clarifications on the issue. But Executive Director of Research and Spokesperson of ANED, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, confined the moves by the EFCC, ICPC and FIRS. He said: “I can confirm to you that the EFCC and ICPC wrote the DISCOs. The FIRS also had their day, but we cannot comment now. We are still watching events as they unfold.” A source at the ministry, however, said that the moves were necessary to review how the power assets faired in the five years of being overseen by the DISCOs.

“The move is mandatory to review the five-year performance of the investors. It’s a basic requirement according to the provision of the agreement signed for the November 1, 2013 handover of the asset of the defunct PHCN to the new owners of the assets,” he said. A few months into the fifth anniversary of power sector’s privatisation, the news about bickering between the Federal Government and investors, outshined information, if any, about achievements of the scheme that came with much promises for Nigerians. T he Minister of Power, Works and Housing, personally signed a statement late last July, which revealed his thoughts on the roles played by the DISCOs through ANED in the power privatisation exercise.

The ANED, on the other hand, organised world press conference to detail the role the minister played or did not play, that made the power sector to be at the state it is after five years of privatisation. Fashola descended heavily on the management of ANED, describing it as interloper and “non-performers.” The minister, who particularly took a swipe at the spokesperson of ANED in a statement he personally signed in Abuja, challenged DISCOs to pay, without further delay, the N800 billion it owes Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company, (NBET). He said: “Electricity consumers, which include Fashola, want better service; NBET wants its money; about N800 billion, so she can pay GENCOs.

“If DISCOs can prove that FGN owes more than what we admit, they should deduct, N72 billion, from N800 billion and pay the remaining N728 billion, which they owe NBET.” The DISCOs, however, declared that actions and inactions of the minister are responsible for their woes. Oduntan maintained that the minister’s relationship with stakeholders is headmaster/ pupils rapport, in which no room is given for sincere collaboration.

The ANED spokesman said that interactive and collaborative talks that would aid development of the sector are not allowed at the monthly stakeholders’ meeting. Besides, he said that the minister only comes around, read speeches and gives orders to those he is expected to engage in “mind-to-mind talk” to get solutions to the challenges facing the sector. “Under the watch of Mr. Fashola as the minister, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has conducted no minor review of the Multi-Year Tariff in violation of the law. This has worsened the under recovery in the entire value chain far above N1.1 trillion,” he said




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