BPE Oblivious of Agip/Oando Planned Concession of Port Harcourt Refinery

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is ignorant of the proposed rehabilitation and operation under a concession arrangement of the 210,000 barrels per day (bpd) Port Harcourt Refinery by oil firms – Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Oando Plc, THISDAY yesterday learnt from top sources in the privatisation agency.

It learnt in Abuja that despite the BPE’s listing of the refinery along with Warri and Kaduna refineries on its privatisation schedule, it has however not been involved in plans by the federal government to concession the Port Harcourt refinery to Agip and Oando on a repair, operate and maintain basis, a transaction oil and gas business experts have faulted.

One of the top sources within the privatisation agency confirmed to THISDAY that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have carried on the refinery concession plan without its involvement. He explained that the agency was in the dark on the concession arrangement, thus claiming that negotiations with the firms have been without it.

The sources stated that even though the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) which is statutorily responsible for signing off on the privatisation and concession of such national assets has not been constituted by the government, the BPE should have been involved in the refinery concession which the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. IbeKachikwu, disclosed would be concluded in September.

Kachikwu had earlier in May stated in Houston that the government had got bids from investors to revamp the three refineries, and would make known the preferred offers by September, however, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Oando, Mr. Wale Tinubu, subsequently disclosed that his firm had been selected to takeover Port Harcourt refinery, thus raising questions about the transparency of the selection process and the overall transaction.

Similarly, experts who spoke to THISDAY on this stated that the process could be considered unlawful without the approval of the NCP. They also asked the ministry of petroleum resources and NNPC to show evidence of a transparent and competitive selection process from which Agip and Oando emerged as the best candidates to take over and repair the refinery.

One of the experts, Mr. Dan Kunle, specifically queried the choice of Agip for Port Harcourt refinery, stating that Agip built the 125,000bpd Warri refinery and should have opted for it instead of Port Harcourt.

Kunle said: “In 2015, I remember vividly the visit of the then GMD of NNPC which happens to be the minister of state now, Emmanuel Kachikwu, to Port Harcourt refinery, and he stated that they had spent $10 million to rebuild it and it was going to come on stream. What has happened, we need to know the truth.”

He alleged that: “The interest of ENI/Agip in Port Harcourt refinery is a manifestation of the long vested interest of Oando in the refinery because they put in bids in the past for it but failed.

“Agip has no technical record in Port Harcourt refinery, they built the Warri refinery and the propane plant in Warri refinery was built by Technimont. I would have expected the minister to look at that history and tell Agip/Eni, that even though they have rights to bid for Port Harcourt, they should look at Warri where they already have a technical record.”

Speaking on the need for the approval of the NCP in such cases of assets’ concession, Kunle stated: “NCP is a life act, and I am surprised that they have not constituted it because they have the mandate to privatise the assets.

“The NCP has to become conscious and wrestle the country from the politics of the petroleum ministry over the refineries. The ministry cannot sell or concession the refineries without the NCP represented by the BPE, and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). Besides, those companies are already scheduled in the privatisation timeline.”

“If you are doing selective bidding, what makes Eni/Agip to qualify because it is Warri that they should be qualified for? What is the basis, how did they come about the people, where is the advert and prequalification criteria? They must be subjected to ethical corporate governance. This transaction has to be open and clear, otherwise nobody can take it over,” he added.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Chineme Okafor.

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What happened to transparency?

At the annual Nigerian jamboree to the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, Texas, Dr. IbeKachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum resources, told a “world press conference” on May 5, 2017 that Nigeria’s refineries would soon have new investors. He said 26 investors had indicated interest in the epileptic refineries. “By September, we will unveil the investors for the refineries,” the minister said smoothly, typically. “When we came onboard, the refineries were not working but as we speak, we have sizeable investment portfolio for them to an extent that we don’t know who to partner with for the investment.”

Let’s say I didn’t go to school at all. Or let’s say it was evening school that I attended. These would still be my takeaways from the minister’s proclamations: one, our refineries are now in a position to attract investment; two, 26 investors have indicated interest in taking over the refineries (on a repair, operate and maintain, ROM, agreement); three, we have not taken a decision yet because there are so many suitors to choose from; and four, we will announce the favoured investors by September. Without attending Harvard Business School, I would still conclude that it appeared the process was going to be competitive and transparent.

On May 11, 2017 (six days later, right?) Mr. Wale Tinubu, the CEO of Oando Plc, told the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) that the group had received approval of the government to “repair, operate and maintain” the Port Harcourt Refinery together with “our partner” Agip, a subsidiary of ENI, the Italian company indicted in the Malabu/OPL 245 affair. Tinubu said: “We plan to increase the refinery capacity from 30 per cent to 100 per cent.” Great news, as far I am concerned. We need the refineries back as soon as possible; we have had enough of the endless TAMs gulping billions of naira and spewing out virtually no products for decades.

Now this is where I need your help. The last time I checked, with the help of Google, May and September are different months. There are June, July and August in-between. With the help of Google, I also discovered that the gap between when Kachikwu spoke in Houston and when Tinubu spoke in Lagos was a whopping six days — or, to make it simpler, less than one week. There are usually four weeks in a month, and from May 5, when Kachikwu spoke, to September, there are 17 weeks, according to the all-knowing Google. With Tinubu’s disclosure, should we assume that May is the new September? Or that September came early for Oando, Agip and Kachikwu?

But I think Google is overrated. There were so many questions it could not answer. For instance, I asked: “Is Oando among the 26 investors Kachikwu boasted about in Houston?” I could not make head or tail of the results. Google came up with “FOX 26 Houston KRIV”. Nonsense. But I got more gibberish for other questions: did Oando and ENI send in a bid? Was it an unsolicited bid? Was it selective tendering? If it was competitive bidding, how many bids were received for Port Harcourt? How much did Oando/ENI bid? How much did others bid? How much did the bidders promise to invest? How many years will the ROM run? Are there concessions for the new operators?

I can understand why Google got stuck — that almighty search machine likes transparency. If you do not make your information public, it cannot make it public for you. The best, or should I say the worst, Google would do is to suggest answers that it thinks are related to your questions, even when there is no connection whatsoever. If you google most of the major concessions and major contracts awarded by this government, you will get irrelevant answers on the process. For the same reason: transparency is very scarce in these major deals. We just wake up one day and hear that one company has been awarded a job. Not a word on the process.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Oando should not take over the Port Harcourt Refinery. I have devoted a significant part of my column-writing career to promoting the cause of Nigerian companies. I believe that one day, made-in-Nigeria will be enjoyed all over the world. I want Nigerian companies to fly our flag honourably. Even though I have been called names and subjected to sickening innuendos for promoting Dangote, Globacom, Oando and Innosons, among others, I am not about to repent. Americans are proud of their Apple, Microsoft and Chevron, and my dream is that our people and our companies will become global brands too.

That said, though, I am very worried about an emerging pattern in this administration. President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the strength of correcting the mistakes and misdeeds of the previous government, but I am seeing too much repetition for it to be coincidental. There is too much secrecy in the way many important things are done, and corruption, need we say, thrives on secrecy. Take away competition, take away transparency, take away accountability, and you have a perfect recipe for corruption. We cannot be sealing deals under the table without revealing the details to Nigerians and then claim we are building an open society.

We just woke up one day to learn that GE had secured the concession to take over the railways. How did it happen? What are the details of the deal? Is this the best possible deal Nigeria can get? We were just watching TV one evening and learnt that the federal government had finally signed a renegotiated concession agreement with the Global Steel Holding Limited (GSHL) for Ajaokuta Steel. Up till today, we don’t know the details. Ask questions and what you get as answer is: who paid you to ask? As a journalist, I’m used to the blackmail. I would have quit this job the day I joined if I had to pay attention to personal attacks.

By the way, I know a bit about the procurement options. I know of “sole sourcing”, where you go to one provider only because no other provider does it — like buying a Rolls Royce from the maker. “Selective tendering” allows you to approach a few providers who meet certain criteria. There is “repeat procurement”, where you return to earlier provider because of time constraints and because they did a previous job well. All these need strong justifications because you are restricting competition, which is a major element of procurement. And then there is “competitive bidding”, where you throw it open to all. In all, Nigerians deserve to know the process adopted.

Get me right. I am not saying anything illegal is being done in the case of the Port Harcourt Refinery. It just lacks transparency. That’s my point. And what about other moral issues? ENI again? As I write this, many Nigerians are being prosecuted or wanted by the EFCC for their involvement in the OPL 245 deal. They are being accused of taking part in an elaborate bribery scheme. But ENI, which is at the centre of it all and is being prosecuted by an Italian prosecutor for its role in the $1.3 billion affair, is cornering more deals in Nigeria without getting as much as a slap on the wrist. The impression being created is that our anti-graft war is very narrow.

I sympathise with the government over the limitations imposed by procurement rules, particularly the constraint of speed, but the process was designed for a purpose. More so, this government has been in power for nearly two years, which means a lot could still have been accomplished over the years in spite of the constraints. And, remember, there are many options that can shorten the process which the government has been using for a while now. The biggest headache, though, is that there is too much opaqueness for us to conclude that transparency is a guiding principle. The chaos over the concessioning of Port Harcourt Refinery is a very good example. Dissonance.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Simon Kolawolelive.

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Clear priorities set for Zimbabwe

Last week the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and its 26 member churches took another step forward towards a united fellowship by agreeing on a clear set of priorities. Five areas of special importance for the process of nation building have been identified and were discussed with church leaders during a solidarity visit led by the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit last week.

“The ecumenical support and the solidarity shown with our people encourages us in our efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous society”, said Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

The first priority concerns the role of the church in the public space and the understanding of public theology.
“We need to rethink our public role and to create a learning space, not only for ourselves but also for other countries that are preoccupied with this issue,” Mtata points out.

The second priority is the upcoming election next year, where the Zimbabwe Council of Churches seeks support from other member churches to constitute a global ecumenical election observation team, with support from the WCC.

Thirdly, a long-term and sustained influence in the process of nation building must be achieved.
“We need a broader national dialogue involving not only churches, business communities and civil society, but also political parties. This requires global support and encouragement as we seek to make a meaningful contribution”, Mtata continues.

The fourth priority, which emerges from the broader dialogue, is finding a meaningful solution to current economic challenges.
“We must find ways to contribute to an economic recovery process, where our natural resources bring prosperity to our people, and where a new moral thinking about the economy works against processes that leads to corruption and other misuse of public funds”.

Finally, the organizational sustainability of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches itself, is a key issue through the whole process of nation building, according to Mtata:
“We need to ensure that the organization is properly resourced, both in terms of human and financial resources, in order for us to deliver”, he concludes.

Distributed by APO on behalf of World Council of Churches (WCC).

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Heads of UN food agencies visit famine-stricken South Sudan

All parties to the conflict in South Sudan must cease violence and work together to ensure that food and other lifesaving support can reach people to end famine and severe hunger, the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday.

FAO’s José Graziano da Silva and WFP’s David Beasley made their appeal during a visit to the former Unity State, one of the areas in South Sudan worst hit by the current hunger crisis.

Around 5.5 million people in South Sudan, or almost half the population, face severe hunger, not knowing where their next meal is coming from ahead of the lean season, which peaks in July. Of these around one million people are on the brink of famine.

Of those 5.5 million, more than 90,000 South Sudanese face starvation with famine declared in parts of former Unity State. This unprecedented situation reflects the impact of ongoing strife, obstacles to delivering humanitarian assistance and declining agricultural production.

Immediate response is critical

Graziano da Silva and Beasley stressed that an immediate, massive response is critical, combining emergency food assistance and support for agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

“Despite the appalling conditions it is not too late to save more people from dying. We can still avoid a worsening of the disaster, but the fighting has to stop now. There can be no progress without peace. People must be given immediate access to food, and farmers need to be allowed to work on their fields and tend to their livestock,” Graziano da Silva said.

In the former Unity State, Graziano da Silva and Beasley visited people in several places who are being supported by the two agencies as they cope with the hunger crisis. They met with people facing famine on the remote Kok Island, a refuge in the Nile River where many people have sought shelter from fighting.

They witnessed WFP planes airdropping lifesaving food for tens of thousands of people in Ganyiel, where regular distributions of humanitarian aid have kept famine at bay. The two agency heads saw aid workers from international and local partner organizations distributing WFP food and nutrition treatments, as well as seeds and fishing kits from FAO.

“Food, treatment for malnourished kids, kits that help people fish and grow vegetables – these are the difference between life and death for people we met in Unity state,” Beasley said. “But we can’t keep scaling up forever. The fighting has to end to make the kind of investments that give the children of South Sudan any hope for the future they deserve.”

In Rumbek, in the former Lakes State, Graziano da Silva and Beasley met with families, witnessing first-hand how they are trying to cope with the crisis.

While the situation in Rumbek is not as dire as in other parts of the country, hunger and malnutrition are serious concerns. The two UN agency heads visited an FAO project aiming to provide women farmers and pastoralists with a place to safely process milk for their families and to sell it. It also offers a space for community training.

With malnutrition levels rising inexorably across the country, the project is an innovative way to increase the availability of safe, quality milk and milk products, which are a major dietary staple for people and a source of protein vitamins and minerals – essential components for a healthy diet.

Delays in funding cost lives

Graziano da Silva and Beasley underscored the need for the international community to further support the humanitarian efforts in South Sudan. Additional funding is needed for food distribution, improving nutrition, healthcare, water and sanitation, providing agricultural inputs, including seeds, fishing kits and animal vaccination.

Together, FAO and WFP face a funding gap of around $182 million for the next six months, and are struggling to raise funds to meet skyrocketing needs in several crises around the world. “Donors have supported South Sudan over many years,” said Beasley. “WFP will continue to stand by the people of South Sudan in their time of need. But times are tight, with so many crises around the world demanding attention and support. South Sudan’s leaders must show good faith by facilitating humanitarian efforts, including getting rid of unnecessary fees and procedures that delay and hinder aid.”

WFP aims to assist at least 4.1 million people this year in South Sudan, including lifesaving food for people in remote areas who would otherwise have practically nothing to eat, as they have been cut off by fighting. WFP provides special treatments that help mothers and young children fight off malnutrition. WFP also provides cash assistance to help people buy their own food in parts of the country where there is food in shops but prices have soared so much that the poorest people are unable to get enough to feed their families.

“Saving livelihoods also saves lives,” said Graziano da Silva. “South Sudan has great potential – it has land, water and courageous people. If it also has peace, then together we can work to end hunger.”

So far 2.9 million people have benefitted from FAO’s dry season livelihood assistance, and FAO is currently distributing crop seeds and organizing seed fairs with the aim of benefitting up to 2.1 million people by the end of the main planting season. To date almost 200 000 people have received vegetable and fishing kits in famine-stricken Unity State alone.

In addition, a vaccination campaign has treated some 1.8 million livestock against diseases so far this year, and will reach up to 6 million by year end. FAO is also scaling up the distribution of fishing kits in critical famine areas where people are living in swamps and who are in desperate need of sources of food.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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