Controversy surrounds payment for Enugu power firm

Top government functionaries are divided over the possible extension of the deadline for the preferred bidder for the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, Interstate Electrics Limited, to pay the balance of 75 per cent of the bid sum.

Interstate Electrics owned by a business mogul, Mr. Emeka Offor, had emerged the preferred bidder for Enugu Disco in February.

However, the company failed to meet the August 21 deadline for the payment of the balance of 75 per cent or $93.24m.

Since the deadline ended, the Bureau of Public Enterprises has not been able to invite the reserve bidder, Eastern Electric, promoted by a former Minister of Power, Prof. Bath Nnaji.

Investigations by our correspondent showed that the BPE was in the process of granting a 21-day grace to enable Interstate to pay up the balance for the power firm.

A top official of the BPE told our correspondent on Tuesday that the Request for Proposal made available to the bidders earlier in the transaction stated that they could be given a grace of 21 working days should they fail to meet the deadline.

The extension of time, however, has pitched the Chairman, Technical Committee, National Council on Privatisation, Mr. Atedo Peterside, against the Director-General, BPE, Mr. Benjamin Dikki.

While Petersideis leading those that insist that it is wrong to grant Interstate an extension, Dikki is reportedly canvassing for an extension of the payment time.

In an electronic mail obtained by our correspondent, Peterside advised against the possible extension of time for Interstate, adding that such would not only impinge on the integrity of the transaction and NCP, but would also translate to a financial discount to the preferred bidder.

Peterside had said in the letter, “Your narration shows that this bidder appears to be reckless and undisciplined, and did not make any payment whatsoever towards the $93.24m outstanding.

“Showing up with a mere term sheet on the eve of an important payment deadline is evidence of un-seriousness and/or lack of focus.

“The term sheet should have been presented weeks or months before the payment deadline and not 24 hours before the deadline. This was clearly a ruse to buy some time.

“In the circumstances, I would strongly advise that the preferred bidder be disqualified and that we instead turn to the reserve bidder in order to maintain the integrity of the process.”

Addressing the fears expressed by the BPE boss that Interstate could go to court if the bid was cancelled, Peterside said the privatisation agency should be concerned about doing what was right irrespective of any court action.

He added, “I will, however, like us to simultaneously appeal to the NCP chairman to evoke a presidential pardon and refund the 25 per cent payment already made by the preferred bidder if he signs a document that disavows any future legal action.

“If the preferred bidder does not accept to sign such a document, then he should forfeit the 25 per cent down payment to the Federal Government of Nigeria and should be free to pursue any legal action that he deems fit, and we should be ready to defend our actions in court.”

Documents available to our correspondent showed that Sterling Bank confirmed the receipt of N1bn from Interstate Electrics on August 30, nine days after the deadline had expired, as part payment for the balance of 75 per cent of the bid sum.

Attempts to speak to Dikki and the BPE spokesman, Mr.ChigboAnichebe, on Tuesday failed as they did not pick calls made to their mobile phones nor reply to text messages.

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