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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

NITEL sale: Expert appeals to government

Managing Director, Voicewares Networks Limited (VNL), Mr. Gerry Ekesiani, has reiterated his recent appeal to the federal government to conclude issues surrounding the sale of the first national operator, the Nigerian Telecommunications Plc (NITEL).

Ekesiani, who restated his position on the sale of NITEL in Lagos after emerging the first vice president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), said that the federal government need to urgently resolve the impasse affecting the recent sales of NITEL to New Generation Consortium, which emerged winner of a bid process organized by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

This, he said, would enable the industry to be focused, warning that leaving such matters unresolved now would amount to further depreciation of NITEL at the expense of the Nigerian people.

Ekesiani, the former Managing Director of Geosana Digital Communications Limited, observed that the bid conducted by BPE was adjudged transparent by stakeholders, stressing that New Generation Consortium Limited made the highest bid and was rightly awarded the preferred bidder status.

“Therefore, winner of the auction process,” he declared, wondering why anybody should mislead the federal government to put on hold a process that was successfully concluded.

Ekesiani recalled that the bidding exercise was given live television coverage and every stage of the bid’s opening was done in the open and nobody complained about the entire process till the bid process was concluded.

He maintained that it was very strange for any person or group of persons to come up after the exercise was successfully concluded to say that the process was full of irregularities. He therefore, called on acting president Goodluck Jonathan to wade into the matter in the interest of Nigeria’s economic progress.

Noteworthy is that a few weeks back, New Generation Consortium was declared winner of the bidding exercise, there were allegations of denial by China Unicom regarding its involvement as technical partners to the consortium.

Later, it was learnt that the same Chinese firm confirmed that China Unicom (Europe) Operations Limited was indeed involved as technical partners to New Generation Consortium.

Ekesiani further said that he expected that with the above clearance, the privatization process would have been allowed to take its full course, but that was not to be.

“Rather, it was learnt that allegation of other flaws in the processes was made and this led to the setting up of an ad hoc panel by the National Council on Privatization (NCP) to review the transaction,” he said.

It was also gathered that the panel reportedly confirmed that there were flaws in the sales process and therefore recommended the cancellation of the transaction.

However, a source close to BPE suggested that the federal government panel, may have been in a hurry to recommend the cancelation of the sales process, despite that the panel met once on March 15, 2010 and did not conduct any literature review on March 13, 2010 as stated in its report to the presidency, and therefore could not have conducted a proper review of the bidding process to be able to come up with a comprehensive and balanced report.

According to our sources, the panel chairman only requested that three copies of the background report be prepared by the secretariat to be submitted to his orderly on March 13, 2010 so that he and two other members would meet to review the report.

“It was not clear whether other panel members participated in the literature review,” our source hinted.

Pointing out that in the best interest of NITEL and its subsidiary, MTEL and their employees, FG need to detail an offer letter urgently to new buyers, the New Generation Consortium, to speed up repositioning, so that it would commence the payment of $2.5billion which could settle all outstanding liabilities without recourse to government coffers.

“This would, of course, bring succor to hundreds of thousands of Nigerians whose lives have been negatively affected by the indebtedness of NITEL to creditors and staff,” our source opined.

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