We have noted with shock series of sponsored newspaper reports trying to rubbish the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) over last week's collection of bids submitted by prospective buyers of PHCN's Distribution Companies (DISCOS), an exercise directly handled by the BPE. Instead of owning up to failure on their part to meet the set deadline, sponsors of such write-ups resorted to a campaign of calumny as the only means available to compel the BPE to further extend the timeline for them.
One recalls that ample time has been given to all interested bidders at home and abroad to fully participate in the exercise, which began as far back as 2010 when government sponsored BPE on a road show to global capitals, such as London, New Delhi, New York, Johannesburg, and many others, advertising the PHNC privatization programme and at the same time inviting investors all over the world to come and participate, assuring them of government's commitment to ensuring global best practices in the sale of the assets.
Not long after the road show the BPE came up with modalities for the sale of the generation companies (GENCOS) and the distribution companies (DISCOS) spanning a period of over one year. The BPE, during the process, invited bids from interested Nigerians and international companies for expressions of interest, and at the end of it all, over 300 companies responded by making submissions. After carrying out the required assessment the number was reduced to about 150 being the qualified companies after the expressions of interest. Consequently, the next phase began, with the issuance of the Request For Proposal (RFP).
Since that time the BPE had made adjustments to its timeline to accommodate some inadequacies, in line with the suggestion of companies participating in the bidding exercise and other stakeholders. The first submission date of November 1st 2011 was changed twice, until the final date of July 17 and July 31 at 5 pm each day for GENCOS and DISCOS respectively was agreed on as far back as February 2012. It is also important to note that the BPE sent a reminder to bidders on the 27th July 2012 that the submission of proposals for the distribution companies remained July 31 indicating that the deadline of 5pm is firm and late proposals will not be accepted.
It is therefore surprising that some people who referred to themselves as "credible" companies have resorted to writing articles in various Nigerian newspapers seeking the extension of the submission date and time simply because they were late in submitting their bids. These companies used such terms as 'hurried closure' of the acceptance of bids by the BPE. In the process, they even dragged in certain labour elements like NUPENG, to make statements asking BPE to extend the timeline. This, in a considered opinion, is selfish, dishonest and unacceptable in present day Nigeria where we clamour for a paradigm shift in the way government business is done. If such calls were to be taken seriously by government, what impression are we giving to the international community, to investors, and to our development partners such as the World Bank that have stood with us in the programme?
Nigeria should try to chart a new course away from our past in order to do things right and on time. These so-called "credible" Nigerian companies still live in the era of African Time which will no longer be tolerated in the conduct of business. Besides, any attempt to change the submission date and time will open a floodgate of requests from other bidders who may complain of other conditions contained in the RFP such as the requirement for a bid bond from grade 'A' Banks, some others may argue that the BPE should accept bonds from insurance companies or other forms of financial instruments as a mode of payment, which will certainly be unacceptable.
When some big Nigerian companies such as Dangote Group and many others were late in submitting their bids for GENCOS on July 17, 2012, they did not resort to such writings seeking extension of the timeline as we now see with those bidding for distribution companies. So we advise these late comers that time is of essence; and being prompt is the hallmark of business. If they were reputable as they claimed to be, they would have made the 5pm deadline for the submission of bids. It is also interesting to note that it is only now that such "credible" companies are suggesting the decentralization of collection centres by the BPE. This idea coming to them after failing to meet the deadline is rather belated.
We want to acknowledge, with pride, the courage and determination of the Director General of the BPE Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa and her team in staying firm on the timeline as issued by the National Council of Privatization (NCP). We also are proud of her hard work in the entire power sector privatization from inception to date. We salute the BPE for this uncommon achievement. If all government officials will have the courage to withstand pressures from selfish elements whose desire is to derail government programmes and drag Nigeria's effort to disrepute, our country will be a better place. It also should be noted that very soon we will embark on a similar deregulation in the oil sector and if we fail to get the power sector right, no genuine investor will be interested in such future exercise in Nigeria. Let me end by reminding us of the statement credited to Sir Richard Bronson, the owner of the Virgin Brand, who says recently that he will never invest in Nigeria again, and that Nigerian politicians are dream killers. Such statement coming from a respected global investor of the caliber of Sir Bronson should be of concern to us and our leaders.
The author wrote this article from Abuja.
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