BPE Considers Framework to Check Undue Influences in Privatisation Process

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Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is putting in place a framework to rid the processes leading to the privatisation of public assets of undue influences and possible abuses.

The BPE’s Director General, Mr. Alexander Okoh, who made the disclosure in Abuja yesterday on the sidelines of the swearing and signing of pledges by participants of the global anti-bribery and anti-corruption workshop organised by Malkara Consulting, also revealed that to ensure greater accountability and transparency in the sale of assets, the privatisation agency was pursuing the introduction of public offering

This, he said, would whittle down public scepticism and negative perception from certain stakeholders as well as ensure greater buy-in by Nigerians.

“What we want to do going forward, is to put in place a framework that would ensure that there are no undue influences in the process of selling these assets

“Once the public is convinced that these assets are sold in a transparent manner, then, the pushback is that the public antagonism to privatisation will be greatly reduced. We are also trying to emphasise the sale of the assets through public offer.

“Through that process, every retail market woman, civil servant and everybody can buy into these assets and feel a sense of ownership of the divestment of these assets,” he said.

In his address at the event, Okoh noted that privatisation is a key tool for economic growth, adding that in the 30 years of the enterprise reform journey in the country, the federal government had reformed over 140 public enterprises across various sectors.

He regretted that notwithstanding the obvious benefits of and the impact that privatisation has had on the Nigerian economy, there is still a great deal of scepticism from certain stakeholders.

“The labour unions are ideologically opposed to privatisation because for them, this results in loss of jobs. Some quarters of the general public also believe that privatisation is a means through which public enterprises are handed over to cronies of government in a manner sometimes lacking in transparency,” he said.

He pointed out that in dealing with public assets, the BPE has a responsibility of ensuring that its processes are transparent, competitive and credible, especially given the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.

“In doing so, we are able to ensure that these assets are sold to credible investors with the financial and technical capacity to restore the enterprises to profitability and thereby contribute to the overall economy.

“ This makes trainings on anti-corruption and adherence to international best practices all the more important. Towards this end, the staff of the Bureau are constantly tooled and retooled, and exposed to capacity orientation programmes geared towards ensuring that our processes and conduct submit to the principles of transparency, accountability and integrity,” Okoh said.

Responding to a question on whether or not the agency would review some assets sold in the past in view of claims that some form of abuses may have occurred, he said, “unless there are strong evidence that some of the assets are corruption-ridden, we are not going back to review what has been privatised.”

“ But going forward, our processes will show that there is transparency and accountability,” said.

He disclosed that the BPE was not aware of any petition regarding any privatised enterprise over issues bordering on corruption or abuses on the processes leading to its privatisation

“These are just impressions that are held in the public sphere. Whether these impressions are well founded, we don’t know, but what concerns us now, and going forward is that the framework for selling public assets will be totally corruption-free such that we can have public confidence in the privatisation programme.

According to him, there has to be a partnership between the public and private sectors to stamp out corruption, adding that corrupt practices are also present in the private sector.

“ In fact, corruption is a collaboration between the private and public sectors to gain advantage as it relates to government interests. We’re not going to ignore it, we are not going to join it. We are going to stop it.

He said the scorecard is pretty good vis-à-vis 30 years of privatisation experience.

“We believe that we have done well, not totally to the satisfaction of everybody,” noting that while many privatised assets are doing well, about 36 per cent are having one form of challenge or the other.