Minister of Works, Chief Mike Onolememe
By Ike Abonyi
Further insight has been given into why the Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement between the Federal Government and an indigenous firm, Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited for the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway failed as it was discovered that the company lacked the necessary capacity ab nitio to have taken up such project.
This was disclosed at the weekend by the Minister of Works, Chief Mike Onolememem, during an exclusive interview with THISDAY in his office in Abuja.
According to the minister, “PPP is a new paradigm in the delivery of infrastructure everywhere in the world and it is a new paradigm for us here in Nigeria, what happened in the Bi-Courtney concession was an unfortunate thing because that concession, in the first place I had reservation on the processes that produced the company because when I was minister of state in 2007, I was aware that the project were advertised and so many people bided for it but somehow the political leadership truncated that process and then in the twilight of that regime, we heard all of a sudden that only one bidder, Bi-Courtney submitted a bid.
“So ab initio, it was a questionable process and the truth about that concession is that Bi-Courtney lacked the capacity to deliver that project and all the delays he talked about, I have gone through all the papers and documents to discover that all the delay emanated from him.”
The minister had on November 19 last year announced the termination of the contract, citing a number of breaches including failure to submit copies of the construction contract and the financial agreement as well as copies of the operations and maintenance contract.
The company, it was disclosed, was also unable to carry out construction work despite access to the site since September 2009.
Onolememen had also said that the action was taken because the Bi-Courtney had consistently flouted the rules of engagement by failing to execute the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) project as stipulated in the agreement.
Explaining further why the Federal Government had to take the action, the minister said the government was not going to abandon PPP idea because of the Bi-Courtney experience.
“The PPP is a vehicle for delivering infrastructure in our country, if anything, very soon Nigerians will hear groundbreaking announcements on PPP projects because we are almost on the verge of announcing the second Niger bridge project under that vehicle and of course that will translate to the preferred bidders going to site.
“We have been working for the last 13-14 months and we are just at the last stage now and the same thing will happen to the international airport road in Lagos, we are going to massively expand and beautify that through the Public Private Partnership.
“We have about 10 projects which are before the ICRC for their objection for us to continue their procurement under the Public Private Partnership”
When asked if government did enough investigation on the capability of the company given their shoddy work at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the minister said “I don’t think the airport project was delivered at the time he got that particular project and like I was saying, Bi-Courtney had a number of contractual obligations to fulfil in the agreement and they include that it was the obligation Bi-Courtney to have done the design of the road and the responsibility of the ministry of works to approve but it took Bi-Courtney two years to submit the preliminary design which took the ministry two months to study and comment on with changes he needed to do and communicated to him that he should go ahead with the final design for certification but up till the final termination of the concession, Bi-Courtney never came back with a detailed final design of that road even up till the termination date.
“He keeps saying that it took the ministry two years to approve but when you don’t present a plan to the ministry, what will they approve when you have not met your obligation.
The minister said the company was also unable to meet some basic professional needs of its professionals.
“I have it on authority that he could not pay the consultants for the design, I am in the profession and we exchange notes but we knew what happened that he didn’t have the capacity and also, the most important failure of Bi-Courtney was its failure to achieve financial closure and when we tried to look into his challenge and unbundled the project to help him, he went on a wild goose chase rather than showing interest, in fact, he crafted a brand new agreement for government to sign.
“No reasonable government will sign an agreement that will not only tie its hands but also its leg because there were so many unacceptable clauses fitted into that agreement.”
He also cited the company’s inability to resolve any issue with the providers of telecoms services, saying that even when the Federal Government no longer offers those services, it will have to pay compensation on the delay until he is able to resolve it.
On the fate of some government officials who connived with the company to perpetuate the fraud, the minister said: “In fairness to you, I am of the opinion that sanctions should be meted against government officials who perpetrated this kind of heinous crime against the people of this country. That is my candid opinion.