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NPA: Amaechi’s Much Ado About Nothing


NPA: Amaechi’s Much Ado About Nothing

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By Barrister Edozie Onwuachu

The Administrative Panel set up to probe the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on the watch of its suspended Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, has begun sitting. One of the issues that will be raised at the hearing is channel management. A number of questions will be asked: what is the state of the channels? What is the status of the contract for the Joint Venture Partnership for channel management (capital/maintenance and wreck removal)? Has the contract been awarded after the ministerial directive in August 2020 that further contract award in respect of the channel management should be put on hold?

The Ministry of Transportation, under the superintendence of the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, had in the heat of the claims and counter claims bordering on some wrongdoings allegedly perpetrated by the suspended NPA MD, issued a statement to explain its directive to the NPA to procure equipment for dredging/clearing of the channels instead of awarding the job as contract to outsiders.

The Ministry of Transportation had explained that it objected to the award of contracts for the management of channels by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because it is more cost-effective for the NPA to procure necessary equipment and execute the contracts in-house. But from available records, the NPA under Hadiza’s administration had yet to award any contract before the current feud, contrary to insinuations that the NPA ignored a ministerial directive on the issue.

The Ministry had, in a statement by its Permanent Secretary, Dr Magdalene Ajani, disclosed that while channel management contracts had been routinely awarded over the years by the NPA at a cost of between N50 billion and N60 billion on an annual basis, Amaechi had adopted a firm position that the NPA should undertake the job of channel management on an in-house basis through the acquisition of the necessary machinery and professional capacity to stop the humongous annual sums paid out to dredging contractors by the agency.

The ministry, in the statement, had noted that the channel management contracts for the Lagos, Bonny and Port-Harcourt Channels expired in 2020, while the contractual process for the renewal of the said contracts commenced early in 2021. According to the statement, Amaechi, had while responding to a request for the NPA to provide requisite details related to the proposed transactions, directed on January 22, 2021 thus: “There is the need for NPA to know that NPA should purchase their own equipment and not award any contract.

“The letter requested the NPA to provide the following information for the ministry’s records and further necessary action: The current status of the managing agent contract and the measures put in place to cover the vacuum created as a result of the expiration of the contract to prevent revenue loss to the government;

“The current status of the Lagos and Bonny/Port Harcourt Channel management companies and the measures put in place to cover the gap created by the expired contracts to ensure the channels are maintained for safe navigation and efficient service delivery; the volume dredged annually from the channels and the depths achieved from inception management contracts to date and the amount expended; the number of wrecks removed annually by the Channel Management Companies from inception of the contracts and amount spent; and the total number of buoys replaced or maintained during the life span of the contract and the amount spent. I am to also convey the directives on the need for the Authority to procure its equipment for the service and cease from awarding any such contract.”

The ministry had claimed in the statement that the NPA did not deem it necessary till date to respond to the ministerial directives, despite the fact that the above letter was duly received by the NPA on February 2, 2021.

But there are claims, strengthened by some facts and figures, on which a critical mind could make some logical inferences. The first is that the contract for the Joint Venture Partnership for channel management has not been awarded as it is still undergoing procurement. This is verifiable and if discovered to be otherwise, subject to rebuttal. In line with due process, the award of the contract must go to the Ministerial Tenders’ Board and thereafter to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval. This process has not been circumvented, according to available information.

The alternative narrative is that the Minister had requested that the NPA should extend the existing JV partners (in respect of the Channels contract) for one year at the expiration of their 15-year contract in August 2020, and that, however, in line with the Public Procurement Act (PPA), the NPA had in line with the Minister’s directive, sought the “no-Objection” of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to extend the contract for one year; but the BPP declined the request and directed the NPA to proceed and conduct a public tenders for the Joint Venture Partner.

Furthering the narrative, it was sufficiently established that following the decline by the BPP to grant the extension directed by the Minister, he (the Minister) then sent a letter to the NPA that it (NPA) should procure the dredgers and not proceed with the tender and also to provide information about costs in wreck removal. It was at this point, as learnt, that critical issues of budgetary provisions and due process reared their heads. It was germane to consider the financial capability of the NPA to procure the dredgers as directed by the Minister in the context of budgetary provisions. It was confirmed that the procurement of dredgers was not provided for in the 2020 supplementary budget and 2021 main budget. So, it was impossible to activate the ministerial directive to procure.

Some had argued that the money could be vired from some subheads in the budget, but they failed to appreciate the length of time it would take the NPA to procure the dredgers even if it had obtained budgetary virement. Again, the entire gamut of the process of procurement and maintenance is also critical. The more significant question to address between procurement and maintenance weighs on the side of maintenance, to wit: does the NPA have the manpower resources and the requisite skill set to do the maintenance and wreck removals? It is clear on the face of the question that since in the meantime the NPA does not have the manpower resources to handle the equipment, the JV contractors should have subsisted but for the BPP’s objection.

It is obvious that since the directive that the NPA should procure dredgers was not as simple as the directive came, the claim and contention over sidestepping the ministerial directive should be resolved in favour of the NPA and its suspended Managing Director. But then the implication of the “delay” was that the extension of one year that the Minister wanted would be got through the back door. So, what exactly is the Minister’s beef against the backdrop of the fact that he had earlier directed the extension of the contract for the JVP for another one year, if not that the BPP raised the objection that has created the Elephant in the room?

Looking at the position of the minister on the procurement of equipment by the NPA to execute the job of channel management in-house dispassionately, one should also consider the amount of damage procurement of the equipment would do to the coffers of the NPA/Federal Government. The current market prices according to some industry sources are staggering. For instance, they say that the current market price (at an exchange rate of 1 Euro to N464) of the Jumbo Trailing Suction Hopper Dredger is Euro 200 million (N92.8bn) while the Medium Trailing Suction Hopper dredger is Euro 100 million (N46.4bn). Others are the Cutter Suction Dredger at Euro 150 million (N69.6bn); Grab Dredger at €150,000,000.00 (N 69.6bn); Heavy Lift Wreck Salvage Vessel at €60,000,000.00 (N 27.84bn); Multicart (for Bouys Maintenance) at €10,000,000.00 (N4.64bn); and Tug Boat at €15,000,000.00 (N 6.96bn).

These are the equipment that JV companies use globally for management of channels. The costs of purchase of these machines are quite staggering. It is the reason channels management is done globally through third party contractors with track record of performance and financial capacity to absorb the possible shocks that arise during job execution. They could afford these equipment which they deploy in various project sites globally. And, it beggars belief to consider that the minister would expect these behemoth of equipment to be procured at the snap of the fingers or at his mere directive.

Therefore, one wonders why the minister was beside himself with rage, splitting hairs and creating much ado for nothing. It is possible that his grouse about Hadiza and her management of the NPA had other triggers whether political or pecuniary. Whatever it is, the minister has always been a man of courage; he should call out Hadiza such that it would be impracticable for her to put up a defence that would exculpate her, instead of the minister hiding behind a finger to make outlandish insinuations and claims, and pretending to be embarking on some voyage of a self-appointed puritan who is out to clean purported Augean stables as exemplified by the management of the NPA.

The scenario presented supra approximates a significant stanza in the Amaechi-Hadiza Bala Usman saga. It vitiates the salad of falsehood being fed the reading publics. Nothing comes close to “The many sins of Hadiza Bala” in the apocryphal documents doing the rounds, which intendment is to sully the reputation of the suspended MD of the NPA. If anything at all, what is being witnessed is the “outpouring of bile against a woman who dared to do the right thing by following the due process.”

For instance, in one of the laughable claims in one of their numerous documents arrayed against Hadiza Bala Usman, they alleged about failure by the NPA under her to remit N165 billion into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) account of the federation. The claim is untenable. The truth is that those making this allegation do not understand the guiding principle for remittance of operating surpluses. According to the laws guiding the remittance, such amount to be remitted into the CRF are arrived at upon the audit of the accounts of the government agency concerned. What these rumour mongers are talking about are calculations arrived at from budget provisions rather than the audited financial statements of the NPA.

Besides, it remains far-fetched to ascribe disobedience to directive by the minister to the suspended MD. Contrary to their narrative, and it bears repeating here that she did not disobey the directive of the minister on procurement of dredging equipment; neither did she organize a secret tenders process. As they say in law, res ipsa loquitor, the facts speak for themselves. The truth is that the Minister requested that the NPA should extend the existing JV partners for one year at the expiration of their 15-year contract in August 2020. In line with the Public Procurement Act, the Authority sought no objection to extend the contract for one year in line with the Minister’s directive but the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, declined the request and directed the Authority to rather proceed to conduct public tenders for the JV partner.

The verifiable position, as learnt, is that when the Authority notified the Minister about this development, he then sent a letter directing the Authority to procure the dredgers and provide information about costs of wreck removal instead of proceeding with the tender. But there are many challenges to the execution of this directive namely: How can the authority procure dredgers when they are not in its budget? How long will it take for the authority to procure the dredgers even if it obtained budget virement? What is the cost of buying the dredger and its maintenance? Does the authority have the skill and manpower resources to do the capital, maintenance, and wreck removals? To boot and more importantly, there has not been any award of dredging contract because the tender has not been completed. Sancta simplicitas!

  • Mr. Onwuachu, a lawyer, writes in from Yaba, Lagos.

Source: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2021/05/26/npa-amaechis-much-ado-about-nothing/

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