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Presidential Task Force on Power: A Money Guzzling Quango?

19 Feb 2013

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Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN)

With the successful development of a world-class power sector roadmap, which has largely been implemented, Ejiofor Alike writes that the continued existence of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) is a waste of resources that would have been deployed to boost the gains of the power reform

When President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) in June 2010, its mandate was to “evolve workable strategies for rapid improvement of power generation, transmission and distribution in the country.”

In other words, the task force was charged with the responsibility of developing and driving an action plan for the attainment of steady power supply in the country.
The setting up of the task force to drive the implementation of the power sector reform became necessary in view of the absence of a legally-constituted Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

Before President Jonathan assumed office, NERC was facing legal challenges due to the dissolution of a legally-constituted commission and the appointment of a sole administrator to run the agency, contrary to its enabling legislation.

Former Chairman of NERC, Dr. Ransom Owan, and six commissioners, representing each of the geopolitical zones were sacked by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on February 4, 2009, without recourse to the National Assembly, and arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegation of fraud

A former secretary of the commission, Mr. Imamuddeen Talba, was appointed administrator, a position considered by legal experts as alien to the legislation that established NERC.

Based on the provisions of the enabling legislation, the sacked officials, who were facing trial, accused the government of not following due process in their removal and also challenged government’s action in court.
When President Jonathan came on board, the NERC crisis had effectively stalled power sector reform because of legal issues surrounding the regulatory body and the Federal Government.

The government was rightly advised by local and foreign investors that reform could not be properly implemented without a regulator and this contributed largely to the setting up of PTFP to drive the reform, pending the resolution of the logjam in NERC.

To resolve the NERC crisis, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), apologised to the sacked commissioners and withdrew criminal charges against them.

The embattled former officials also reciprocated the gesture by also dropping the court cases challenging their removal, paving the way for the reconstitution of the current board headed by Dr. Sam Amadi, to drive the sector reforms.
As the NERC crisis lingered, President Jonathan appointed Professor Bart Nnaji, who was already his Special Adviser on Power, as Chairman of the PTFP.

Before the inauguration of the PTFP, President Jonathan had in May 2010 set up the Presidential Action Committee on Power (PACP), chaired by the Vice President, to ensure that priority was accorded issues relating to the power sector at the highest level of government.

PACP was given a mandate to act like a “War Cabinet”, setting policy and granting expedited approvals for critical decisions.

With the kind of complex bureaucracy in government, PACP is still as relevant today as it was in 2010

Achievement of PTFP

Within three months of operation, the PTFP developed a world-class power sector roadmap, which was launched in Lagos on August 26, 2010 by President Jonathan.

To most relevant stakeholders in the sector, the roadmap was actually the action plan the task force was mandated to develop for the attainment of steady power supply in the country.

These stakeholders had expected that the successful development of the roadmap should signal the end of the life span of the task force.

The Ministry of Power and a legally-constituted NERC should monitor the implementation of the roadmap.

It was during the launching of the roadmap that President Jonathan promised to reconstitute a new NERC.

The president, who was then basking in the euphoria of commendations he received by the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) told foreign and local investors, who gathered in Lagos that the new NERC would be headed by a man whose credential was as impeccable as that of the INEC boss.

Few weeks after launching the roadmap developed by Nnaji and his team in the PTFP, the President reconstituted NERC and also elevated Nnaji from his dual positions as Chairman of the PTFP and Special Adviser on Power to the Minister of Power.

Before this development, the task force was widely believed to have achieved its core mandate of “developing and driving an action plan for the attainment of steady power supply in the country,” having successfully developed the roadmap.

Also with the reconstitution of NERC, the job of driving the power sector reform was taken over from Nnaji’s PTFP to this apex regulator.

It should be noted that as soon as Nnaji became minister, the PTFP became silent and also remained so throughout his tenure as minister.

This development was not surprising because the task force, which was originally meant to be temporary, had achieved the purpose for which it was set up and was no longer relevant.

Wasteful Reconstitution of PTFP

With NERC in place, the power sector reform moved progressively, attracting unprecedented local and international support throughout Nnaji’s period as minister.

Also with the appointment of PTFP Chairman as Minister and with its Secretary, Mr. Sullivan Akachukwu Nwakpo, already working as a Special Adviser to the President, the PTFP fizzled away for about one year, without any formal dissolution by President Jonathan.

It was however strange that after the PTFP became silent with nobody parading himself as its Chairman or Secretary, the task force was still receiving budget like each of the 18 successor companies of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), even when it was no longer making ordinary policy statement.

For instance, the moribund task force was given a budget of N523, 586, 881 in 2012 and N570, 000,000 in 2011 for what many stakeholders called unjustifiable expenditure.

While the task force, which was no longer making ordinary policy statement received N523million as budget in 2013, Afam Power Plc, received N500, 000,000.00 in the same budget.

Ughelli Power Station got N2,513,660,403.00; Egbin Power Station, N876,331,928.00; Kainji Hydro Electric Plc, N752,983,150.00; while Jebba Hydro Power Station was allocated, N644,572,200.00.

During the same period, Sapele received N801,000,000.00; Shiroro, N759,606,123.00; Geregu, N260,525,000.00; Omotosho, N149,556,080.00; and Olorunsogo, N624,431,728.00.

From the data above, it was clear that the task force was allocated more money than the power generation stations that were in dire need of financial allocations for maintenance and upgrade.

When the task force was set up in 2010, it prepared an outrageous budget of N835, 888, 830, which attracted outcry, prompting President Jonathan to direct the committee to slash the expenditure.
Some of the notable items contained in the task force’s budget in 2010 include items such as blackberry phones, phone lines and internet subscriptions, catering/ guest house expenses, international and local trips, sitting allowances, and expensive vehicles, amongst others for its members and support staff.

Curiously, exactly one week after Nnaji resigned on August 28, 2012 as minister, the PTFP was reconstituted on September 5, 2012, with Mr. Reynolds Bekinbo Dagogo-Jack as Chairman.

Many questions have been agitating the minds of stakeholders. What is actually the work of the task force in the current power sector? Has it become a permanent arm of the Presidency or the Ministry of Power with permanent staff and secretariat? Why was it receiving budgetary allocations when Nnaji was minister even when it had no chairman or secretary? Did Nnaji combine his role as minister with chairman of the task force? If yes, why is the current minister not combining the two roles? Why appointing a new Chairman now?

The claim by the task force on its website that it played a “supportive role” when Nnaji was appointed minister was ridiculous.

Since it was reconstituted last September, PTFP’s most visible achievement is that it always makes contradicting policy statements with NERC and the Minister of Power on the country’s power generation capacities and future targets, apparently to justify its existence.

When the task force was first set up, it was given a mandate to ensure “engagement with other government agencies to resolve roadblocks and bottlenecks to facilitate progress of project and also reporting and escalation of all identified risks that can work against schedules of project delivery and take actions to mitigate their impact.”

It was also given a mandate to intervene in smoothening inter-agency interfaces as well as in observation and reporting of all process and system gaps in the management of power projects.

This mandate has since been realised and with NERC in place, coupled with the Ministry of Power and PACP, the presidential task force on power is believed to be no longer relevant in the new dispensation.

The reconstitution of the task force has no doubt vindicated the Chairman of the Editorial Board of THISDAY, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, when he wrote in a recent article that very soon, SURE-P, Amnesty Office (and now the Presidential Task Force on Power) “and all such new creations that have no enabling laws will also become permanent money guzzling quangos.”

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Presidential Task Force on Power

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