Wednesday, September 03, 2008

BNP Paribas, another face of Pentascope?

Choice of BNP Paribas as the winner of consulting bid for NITEL’s new core investor is raising some question marks among industry players, reports REMMY NWEKE.

One key question begging for an answer among the nation’s telecommunications stakeholders since the announcement that BNP Paribas won the consulting bid to find the new core investor for the moribund Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) has been “if this is not another face of Pentascope?”

ITRealms Online recalls that currently the Senate is probing the over 18 months management contract awarded to Pentascope by the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) charged with the privatization of federal government owned public companies, under controversial means to transform NITEL, which left the national operator more epileptic and indebted than ever before.

The Federal Government through the National Council on Privatization (NCP) presided over by the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, announced last week Monday, the emergence of the BNP Paribas/Eleda Capital Partners Consortium as consultant for the privatization of NITEL and its subsidiary, the Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTel) with six months deadline to complete this assignment.

NCP was established in accordance with the provisions of the Public Enterprises (Privatization and Commercialization) Act of 1999 with functions including determination of the political, economic and social objectives of privatization and commercialization of the selected public entities marked for that purpose.

Briefing newsmen after the council meeting, the Minister of State for Information and Communications, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, said negotiations will commence between the technical committee of NCP and the preferred bidder as soon as possible.

According to him, BNP was adjudged to have scored the highest combined technical and financial score of 82.4 per cent in the financial bids conducted by BPE on July 31, 2008.

He also said that at the conclusion of negotiations, contract would be signed between BPE and the winning consortium among others.

But ITRealms Online investigations revealed that BNP Paribas has ‘intimate’ relationship with Netherlands-based Pentascope International.

BNP described its business as ‘implementation specialists’ with network of 300 professional staff members and 500 partners actively throughout Europe, whereas it has offices in Netherlands, adding that BNP Paribas also implements together with its network partners including Pentascope Partnerweb.

“When we can’t provide the necessarily expertise ourselves or don’t have enough manpower at the time of your request, we turn to the Pentascope Partnerweb,” according to Paribas’ website on ‘Who we work with’.

However, media reports have it that Pentascope files are presently missing at NITEL while the bulk of employees at BNP Paribas (Nigeria) were said to have been drafted from BPE, the principle agency charged with privatization.

Head, Communications at BPE, Mr. Joe Anichebe affirmed this, saying that his office was aware that most Nigerian workers with Paribas are “former staff of BPE” and at the same time, the agency handled the privatization exercise with BNP Paribas.

This, experts argued does not in anyway make the latest consulting bidding transparent, insisting that Nigeria has lots of local consulting telecom engineers to tap from or even engaged by BPE.

Doubting the transparent emergence of BNP Paribas in the purported bid, Senate Chairman on Communications, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu, noted that Paribas could not be a worthy consultant or advisor to BPE in the latest shift by the government to find new core investor for NITEL after the failure of Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) Plc to live up to billings.

He was reported as claiming that they invariably have adequate information on record of the consultant who in the past did not do a commendable work just as a good number of its current staff were former executives of BPE makes the process unacceptable.

Corroborating this position, a Lagos-based telecommunications consultant, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu contended that BPE has no reason not to use local expertise since it is naturally expected that it should have been pairing foreign advisors with local experts in the past efforts on NITEL without success.

He pointed out that various aspects of NITEL’s re-privatization process, indicated that BPE is not only incompetent but has manifested “anti-Nigeria” traits.

“We expect BPE to have been insisting that foreign advisors partner with indigenous expertise in the past exercises. Could it be that Nigerians who partnered with the foreigners in the past can still not do the job? If they cannot, Nigerians deserve to know who they are and they should be able to say what their problems are. It is not rocket-science to privatize NITEL. We should have had enough of the waste we incurred on hiring these advisors who produce nothing but pains for us,” Omo-Ettu declared.

Noteworthy is that the federal government sacked Pentascope International in first quarter of 2005, after it allegedly incurred additional debts running into millions of dollars rather than proffering solution to NITEL’s misfortune.

This came as the Senate recently said it could not lay hands on the documents relating to the loan Pentascope took within six months of taking over the management of NITEL, to the tune of N40 billion with additional treasury bills worth N13 billion, while the proposed N59 billion to be made based on its engagement projections is nowhere to be found.

Other questions on the lips of industry players begging for answers include whether BPE actually observed due process in selecting BNP Paribas, given its antecedents in Nigerian telecom sector; obviously not encouraging and most importantly the link with Pentascope as well as the glaring undertone of engaging most BPE staff for its operations in Nigeria.

Therefore, is Pentascope returning to Nigeria via BNP Paribas to finish the work on ‘NITEL’ that was inconclusive?

Nigerians are watching to see if government officials are deliberately closing their eyes against all facts as the search for new core investor continues into the next year with the six months deadline given to Paribas; rather than ending the search in December as earlier agreed between the government and Transcorp.

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