The attention of the Ministry of Finance has been drawn to a recent malicious publication alluding to the fact that, the Rivers State Government sold assets to fund APC Campaign and that proceeds of the sale was not received in the state’s coffers.
This news is totally misleading and a fabrication that is so far from the truth. It is unconscionable that the source of such utter nonsense is a so called gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the Labour party – Mr Tonye Princewill. It simply beats my imagination that someone like him who has been on the corridors of power in this state that should know better, will peddle such falsehood and derogatory information relating to the public expenditure of the state. There is no gainsaying that Rivers State is a frontline state and potential battleground in the emerging political scenario in Nigeria, but that is not reason for careless tales that is devoid of facts. It should be reasoned that mere suspicions or insinuations on public expenditure pattern is not sufficient grounds for such malicious accusations by any individual like the caliber of Mr. Princewill has done.
It must be noted that Tonye Princewill has himself originated and anchored several projects and transactions in the state geared towards his own pecuniary gains. Meanwhile the outcome of such projects remain questionable and far from the set objectives. Rather than focus on his political career, I wonder why Mr. Princewill will delve into an area of governance – public finance, which he knows little or nothing about.
For the avoidance of doubt, Rivers State under the current administration of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi operates a very robust and transparent public finance system. Since assuming office, efforts have been relentless to modernize the public finance architecture in the state to improve how we account for revenues and report our expenditures. It is on record that the Rivers State remains the first and only state that maintains a dual international credit rating from Fitch and Standard and Poor’s. This is no mean feat considering the rigorous process of not only obtaining the ratings but constantly sustaining and improving it. Compared to several other states in Nigeria or sovereign entities around the world, as can be attested by these ratings, the state has maintained an enviable record of accountability, financial prudence and full disclosure. Our records are therefore verifiable and open from the regular rating reports and annual audited financial statements.
One of the key pillars of the transformation and modernization policies in the state is the enactment and operation of a transparent public procurement process that creates a level playing field to all potential vendors and contractors in the state.
Now on the said allegation of asset sale and diversion of proceeds, I want to state unequivocally and in strong terms that such news report is inaccurate, ill- conceived aimed to tarnishing the good image of the ministry and this administration if it nothing short of wild claims and misguided fallacies. Yet since the last few years the state has embarked on a massive infrastructure investments and systematic process of divestment and concessioning of some moribund and non-performing investments aimed at energizing the local economy, creating jobs and business opportunities for private investors, but more importantly minimizing or eliminating wastages of public financial resources. All of these transactions went through rigorous public procurement regulations in the selection and negotiation as well as signing of the sale/concessioning agreements after being dully approved by the Executive Council. I can say without reservations that I personally participated in several of these transactions and can attest to their authenticity.
Just to give brief insights on the assets in question, Risonpalm is the largest palm plantation in West Africa of over 10,000 hectres. It has over the years fallen into financial distress due to mismanagement. Under the administration of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi the plantation was successfully revamped through 35 years concessioning agreement with SIAT Group of Belgium who were the original project managers and have proven track record of operating oil palm plantations in Nigeria, including Presco Plc. that is currently public listed in the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Under the terms of that agreement SAIT assumed the debts/liabilities of the company and will pay annual royalties to Rivers State Government. It has paid off all obligations as we speak while revamping the operations and creating thousands of new jobs. It should be pointed out that beyond annual royalty payments, the state stands to earn huge tax revenue that will boost its internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in the face of steadily declining federal allocation.
The second major transaction cited relates to the sale of power assets. While electricity generation remains an intractable problem in Nigeria, it is fair to say that the Government here has expended significant resources in building both generating and distributing capacity. It is clearly evident that current installed power capacity of over 500megawatts is more than enough to service the state, yet due to poor management, delay in refund of sold power by PHCN and inadequate gas supply, the state continues to suffer from epileptic electricity and erratic power supply leaving no viable objection than to partner with competent, committed and serious private investors to operate this crucial infrastructure.
Ensuing transaction that led to divestment of 70% equity in this power asset was all carried out within the public domain, with many local financial institutions participating in the deal, like many similar projects around the country. The proceeds were remitted to the government coffers and is steadily being deployed in the funding of other ongoing infrastructure projects. It is simply out of the question for those who know how financial system functions, that lenders and financiers can stand and see proceeds of their own credit facility diverted to other destinations that are not clearly stated in the loan covenants. It will be to long term benefit of the state and the local economy that this administration was able to midwife and conclude such critical and game-changing transaction during its tenure. Rather than deride the administration any well-meaning citizen and even critics should give credit where it is due, especially as it relates to such landmark deals within the Nigerian context, where we have witnessed too many talk and little action or failed efforts to reposition key sectors like the oil/gas and electric power sector.
It must be pointed out clearly in no uncertain terms that proceeds from this sale were all received in the consolidated revenue account of the state. It is inconceivable that any such revenue could have been diverted for political party, campaign given the complex structure of our public accounting system that we operate. Where and how any one such as Mr. Princewill could come up with such claim of fund diversion is simply preposterous.
If in doubt the right course of action should have been to inquire from us here in the Ministry rather than go on a wild goose chase, especially given that I personally have had debates with Mr. Princewell on one or two occasions during our chance meetings on issues relating to the politics of the state and Nigeria in general.
Public Finance space is not an arena for making unsustaintiable claims that is capable of diminishing the good works of any administration. We take our responsibilities here very seriously and therefore will stand to vigorously defend the performance of this administration and our Ministry in terms of the systems and processes or level of accountability. Against this background I want to refute and debunk the erroneous allegation by Mr. Princewill. Rather than throw stones at this administration I would strongly urge him to focus on his political career and run a substantive, issue-based election campaign and tell Rivers people what value he can offer especially judging from his assertion of being a professional. Let he who proffers high probity and seeks equity come with clean hands.
CHAMBERLAIN S. PETERSIDE, Ph.D
Hon. Commissioner for Finance
24rd December, 2014