Reps probe TCN over $2 bln foreign loans

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ABUJA, Oct 18  – Nigeria’s lower house of parliament will investigate $2 billion of foreign loans which the state-owned national electricity grid operator may have raised without official approval, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

The investigation could be a blow to efforts to improve Nigeria’s creaking power infrastructure, which is often blamed for hobbling growth in Africa’s largest economy.

Nigeria privatised most of its power sector in 2013 but retained control of the dilapidated monopoly grid operator, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

Simon Arabo, a member of the House of Representatives, said in a motion that the TCN had borrowed $1.5 billion from the World Bank and other international lenders without securing the approval of both houses of parliament as required.

He described the grid operator’s contract processes as opaque and said they may violate procurement laws.

Arabo did not name the other lenders but said TCN is currently negotiating another loan of $500 million with the Islamic Development Bank.

Lawmakers agreed to investigate the activities of the TCN over the past 10 years in respect of foreign loans and contract awards and to report their findings within eight weeks.

A TCN spokesman did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

The World Bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone call and email.

Reuters was unable to reach the Islamic Development Bank for comment outside of normal business hours by a telephone number and email address listed on its website.

The ailing power infrastructure means blackouts are common across Africa’s most populous country, forcing many businesses and households to run costly fuel generators. If the country’s power plants were to operate at full tilt, the fragile transmission network would not be able to handle the load.

President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged to increase power capacity exponentially during his four-year term and to meet the demands of Nigeria’s more than 180 million people entirely within a decade. (Additional reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Catherine Evans)

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