Govt, power sector unions resolve crisis

Caricature by Laobis Obilonu03 October 2013, ABUJA — The Federal Government and electricity workers yesterday charted a new course for the resolution of lingering labour-related crises threatening the power privatisation programme.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Dr. Godknows Igali, who spoke at the end of a meeting with organised labour in Abuja, said that all contentious issues have been resolved by the implementation committee.

This came even as the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Power, Mr. Beks Dagogo-Jack, said in Lagos that the new investors will only be able to take physical possession of privatised assets after all labour issues have been addressed.

Speaking at the Power Investors Summit Nigeria yesterday, he maintained that the Federal Government is fully aware of all the issues, and has shown a level of goodwill never before seen in Nigeria over the years.

He reiterated government’s commitment to the power reforms programme, saying that the transition period will fully come on stream January 2014.

According to him, the pre-transition period will afford the new owners the opportunity to test-run facilities, fine-tune things; make adjustments, so that when they take full possession, they cannot go wrong.

“It is the best thing to have a very clear pre-transition dimension, where people are doing the business as if they are in transition. But a few things have not been properly set the way they should be. So they will test it and see what needs to be done. It is an adjustment regime and it is not bad at all,” he noted.

Severance package
Dagogo-Jack noted that the labour issues are multi-faceted, adding that payment of workers’ severance package is just a small part in the entire process.

He said the physical handover of the assets will take place after the last person has been paid, saying, “The physical handover is delayed to tidy up the payment, which has been agreed with labour.”

The presidential aide further said: “The dispute resolution has to be put in place before the new investors commence operations. However, I can assure Nigerians that the dispute resolution mechanism has been set up and all the disputes will be resolved.

“Paying the workers is not all the labour issues. All the labour issues have been done with, what remains is paying them, which is a process. We need to know who we are paying; where their banks are, what their names are. If you wire the money, it takes some time to enter the various accounts.”

In this regard, Igali after the meeting with the labour unions promised that about 38,000 workers will receive their severance pay before the end of this week.

He blamed the hiccups being experienced in the payments on the large number of people involved, adding that government has enough money for the exercise, but was being careful in ensuring that money are not paid into wrong accounts.

The Permanent Secretary commended labour for the show of patriotism, adding that about 45,366 out of the 47,000 staff have so far been captured, and that the remaining persons would be done after the office of the Accountant General finalised its processes.

Negotiation with labour
Also speaking at the end of negotiation with labour, Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, Mr. Jonah Otunla, expressed readiness of his office to pay all outstanding benefits after due processes.

He also reiterated the resolve of government to honour all obligations to PHCN workers.

Speaking on behalf of colleagues, General Secretary, Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, blamed government for sending the wrong signals regarding what led to the stoppage of payments which had commenced earlier.

He expressed the hope that workers would be fully paid as promised, adding that government should complete the process as they don’t expect the process to be indefinite.

He commended government for providing solutions to issues agitating the minds of the unions, while supporting the need for a biometric capture of all workers before payments are made.

Ajaero urged all members of the unions nationwide, to suspend their planned action and protest, as this will give room for them to watch if Government will still be committed to ensuring prompt payment of entitlements to its members.

Post-privatisation success

In a video message to participants at the programme, Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, assured Nigerians that the successes recorded following the privatisation of the telecommunication sector will be dwarfed by the success that will be recorded in the power sector.

According to him, investors will be overwhelmed by the opportunities and benefits that will be derived in the power sector in the next couple of years.

In a related development, the Chairman, House Committee on Power, Patrick Ikhariale, has emphasized the need to ensure that Nigerians get value for the promises made for the privatisation of the 17 PHCN successor companies.

He made the remark when he led his committee on an oversight visit to the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, recently.

He explained that over 70 percent of the socio-economic challenges facing Nigerians are as a result of the poor performance of the power sector.

He noted that if the promises of a stable power sector with the privatisation of the successor companies were consolidated, it would go a long way in addressing most of these challenges.

IFC to invest $1bn in Gencos, Discos
Speaking on the sidelines of the Lagos Power Summit, the Director, Infrastructure Department, International Finance Corporation, IFC, Mr. Bernard Sheahan, said the World Bank subsidiary plans to invest about $1 billion (N160 billion) in the Nigerian power sector over the next couple of months.

He said the fund will be deployed to power generating and distribution companies, especially Greenfield power projects.

He stated that the funds, which will be in form of longer term financing, will in the short term, be used to provide financing for three of the distribution companies.

He allayed fears that a number of the privatised assets of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, are obsolete, saying that a number of the assets are worthy of financing.

He said the IFC expressed interest in the Nigerian power sector since 2000, adding that its recent decision to invest in the sector is based on the seriousness and commitment of the Federal Government to the power reforms programme as well as the numerous opportunities it sees in the Nigeria power sector.

He further stated that the IFC has started disbursing funds to some developers in Independent Power Projects, IPPs, adding that its decision to invest a substantial part of the fund in Greenfield projects is based on the need to increase capacity in the sector.

According to him, the IFC will also provide financing for some of the existing projects, as the rehabilitated plants will be important in ensuring stable power supply in the short run.

Also speaking, the Country Manager, Nigeria, IFC, Mr. Solomon Adegbie-Quaynor, expressed optimism that in the next three years, things will stabilise in the power sector, especially when the IPPs start to come on stream.

In another development, a representative of the Investment Sector and Development Department of the Ministry of Power, Mr. Emmanuel Chukwu, said government has put in place policies that will enable investors to operate effectively.

Chukwu, who spoke at the 2013 Power Nigeria Exhibition in Lagos, yesterday, argued that the policies are meant to ensure mutual benefits for the both investors and consumers of power.

He said: “The role of the regulator (Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission) is to ensure that investors do not bring a different price and the end-user does not enjoy free electricity.

Meanwhile, a meeting between  the Federal Government and Labour leaders in the Power sector yesterday in Abuja resolved that immediate payment of the terminal benefits of workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, would commence today and end in a week time.

The Accountant General of the Federation was said to have told the meeting that the Central Bank of Nigeria, credited N99billion to its account yesterday.

Vanguard that gathered that the meeting was told that payment was stopped after commencement because of the absence of National Council on Privatisation, NCP and the Bureau for Public Enterprise, BPE.

It was gathered that workers Pension Fund Administrators PFAs, would also be credited from today.

Confirming the development, General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity, NUEE, Joe Ajaero said labour would give government benefit of doubt, saying Government representatives apologized for the delay and mix-up.

According to him, the Accountant General Mr. Jonah Otunla told us among others, that they would begin full payment today and hope to conclude payment before the end of next week. He said he got an alert of N99 billion credited to the office account by the CBN. He equally apologized for the delay and others.

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