27 February 2017, Lagos – The Federal Government has refused to settle all outstanding debts owed by its Ministries, Departments and Agencies, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
It was gathered that instead of clearing all the debts, the government said it would only settle the electricity bills that accumulated between 2015 and February 2017, leaving out those incurred in 2013 and 2014.
While the MDAs’ electricity debts owed the power distribution companies from 2015 to date was put at N100bn, they were said to incur a total debt of N30bn for 2013 and 2014.
On February 13, the Federal Government directed power distribution companies to make all submissions of debts owed them by the MDAs before the end of this month in order to settle the bills.
“A deadline of February 28, 2017 was issued to receive submissions on the MDAs’ debts from distribution companies, and February 17, 2017 was set as a deadline for the submission of audited and management accounts,” the government stated in a communiqué issued at the end of the 12th monthly meeting of operators in the sector.
The directive was issued following complaints by the Discos that they were owed about N100bn by the government’s MDAs since the sector was privatised and handed over to private investors on November 1, 2013.
The government, however, had described the complaints by the Discos as blackmail. In a bid to stop the continued demand of the power firms, it had directed that they should submit what they were owed by the MDAs.
But our correspondent gathered in Abuja on Friday that the government had failed to pay all the debts, rather it stated that it would only clear the ones that were accumulated from 2015 when the present administration came on board.
Senior officials of different Discos stated that they received the directive from the government, but were surprised to hear that payments would only be for power consumed between 2015 and February 2017.
Should the government go ahead to pay only the MDAs’ debts for the period of the current administration, they said who would be held responsible for the outstanding bills?
The spokesperson and Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, an umbrella body for the Discos, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, told our correspondent that the power firms were surprised at the government’s stance, stressing that it was important for public sector officials to appreciate the fact that government is a continuum.
He said, “The Federal Government, and by this I mean government as an entity, not the Muhammadu Buhari or Goodluck Jonathan government, should know that government is a continuum.
“The truth is that if you owe, the right thing to do is to pay up your debt. Now, you say you are doing verification; we’ve been doing that for ages. They say we are the ones not supplying the data; but we’d supplied data in the past. Different templates come and we supply data.”
Oduntan added, “However, it is not just that, why are they not paying us the arrears from November 1, 2013 to date? Why are they saying they will pay from 2015? Now, who will pay for 2013 and 2014? Should I go to Otuoke to call Jonathan to come and pay the electricity debts of 2013 and 2014?”
“If the government refuses to include the about N35bn debt of 2013 and 2014, then it will be difficult to settle the claims of power generation companies that had sold electricity to the Discos during this period,” an official with a power distribution company in the South-West said.
Oduntan also said that the government could opt to pay gradually, instead of refusing to pay the entire money.
When contacted, officials of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing could neither confirm nor deny what the Discos said.
The Special Assistant to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Hakeem Bello, directed our correspondent to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.
But a senior official of NERC stated that only the agency’s new commissioners were competent to speak on the matter.
The official, however, noted that the commissioners were still settling down as they were only inaugurated recently.