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Monday, April 18, 2011

Ibom science parks: Firms seeks amicable settlement

Respite may be coming the way of the Akwa-Ibom Science Park project following the application for an Arbitrator by the contracting firm, SBT Juul Africa, which was granted recently by a Federal High Court in Uyo, the capital of the state.

This would bring about amicable resolution of the controversies that has befelt the project some months back.

Disclosing this at a briefing in Lagos, the counsel to SBT Juul Africa, Mr. Okechukwu Ekwochi of Messrs Aluko & Oyebode Chambers, said that the disposition of his client is in line with the recent ruling of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, the state capital.

He noted that everywhere in the world, science parks are centres for integrated technology incubation and development and there is need to move the Akwa-Ibom Science Park onto progressive path.

According to him, the current disposition of SBT Juul Africa would be accomplished if the state government led by Gov. Godswill Akpabio accepts the latest High Court ruling.

He revealed that in moving forward, SBT Juul Africa’s application was granted by the court, hence they are now waiting on the State government to respond so that relevant processes vital to the amicable settle would be put in motion.

“SBT Juul had at its own instance made a fresh application to the Federal High Court for appointment of an Arbitrator which application was granted on February 16, 2011,” Ekwochi said.

He further said that SBT Juul had previously written on two occasions to the State to appoint an Arbitrator to settle the pending disputes between the State and SBT Juul but the State did not honour such requests.

“The State had neglected and/or failed to appoint an Arbitrator to amicably resolve the dispute surrounding the Project even after the Federal High Court by an order dated 16 November 2006, which directed the state to do so” he said.

This recent ruling of February 16, 2011, he said, affirmed the fact that the State has resisted all attempts at the amicable resolution of this dispute.

Reacting particularly to what the counsel termed “unpleasant and false publicity by the Akwa Ibom State Government and the State House of Assembly Ad – Hoc Committee with respect to the construction of a Science Park,” he said it has become imperative to set the records straight, moreso on the Suit No. FHC/UY/CS/54/2010, which vindicated his client, SBT Juul.

Giving further details of the dynamics surrounding the Project, he argued that SBT Juul Africa is a Development and Consultancy firm undertaking project developments in several countries in Africa, and on January 30, 2006, the State, represented by the then Honourable Commissioner of Science and Technology, entered into a Turnkey Contract with SBT Juul for the construction of the Science Park.

He explained that work on the project commenced as scheduled and was based on sums advanced by the State, covered by an Advance Payment Guarantee (APG) issued by SBT Juul.

This, he said, entails that upon completion of work for each stage, the APG would be released and the State would effect payment for a fresh tranche of work.

“SBT Juul carried out the project diligently but experienced difficulty due to repeated failures on the part of the State to make payments as and when due,” he decried.

Specifically, he pointed out that in May 2007, after the change in the political administration of the State, the attitude of the State was such that it ceased to show commitment towards the Project and stopped making payments entirely.

In December 2007, he said, based on the fact that the exhaustion of the Project funds made available by the State, SBT Juul estimated that about 70 per cent of the Project had been completed and SBT Juul had handed over three operational Uyo Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) sites to the State through the Ministry of Science and Technology represented by the Commissioner, Honourable Samuel Efanga, who expressed his satisfaction on the extent of work executed so far.

He said that his client, SBT Juul Africa cooperated with the consultants set up to audit the firm on the project, despite reservations the firm had about the independence of some of these entities so-called consultant auditors.

“Upon the assumption of office in 2007, the new administration under the leadership of His Excellency Godswill Akpabio, at various times between 2007 and 2009, appointed ‘In – house Consultants’ and different audit firms, particularly KPMG and Millennium Choice Technologies Ltd (a Company represented by the Special Advisor to the Governor), to review the Project.

SBT Juul co-operated with these Consultants and audit firms by providing them with all documentation in its possession relating to the Project. However, SBT Juul never received any report in respect of the exercise,” Ekwochi.

Also he noted that due to the neglect of the Project site by the State and the lack of commitment on the part of the State, extensive damage has been occasioned on the Project site as a result of erosion and other natural elements, leaving both the building and Information Technology (IT) components of the project in danger of collapsing, unless an urgent step is taken to redress the situation.

Messrs Aluko & Oyebode affirmed that SBT Juul remains willing to have any issues relating to the execution of the Project resolved amicably despite what it considers the State’s reluctance towards any attempt at settlement.

Reiterating that timely resolution of the conflict would not only curb the waste occasioned by the abandonment of the project, but will ensure the satisfactory completion of the Science Park leading to technological advancement for the state as well as job and wealth creation for the people.

Remmy Nweke:
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