18 January 2013

Nigeria: Power Sector Can Be Fixed But ... - Ikhariale


Rep. Patrick Ikhariale representing Esan Central/Esan West/Igueben federal constituency, Edo State, is the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Power. In this interview, he says strict compliance with existing laws and prudent management of resources is all that is needed to fix the nation's power sector. Excerpts.

How do you see the rush by states to start generating electricity in the country?

There is nothing wrong with the activities of those trying to generate electricity inasmuch as they are connected to the national grid. The only issue is that they are not allowed to distribute. But with the Power Sector Reform Act 2005 and the setting up of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission to regulate some activities in the power sector, even local governments that are capable can generate electricity within their locality, or in the private sector those with the capability can do same.

From statistics and experiences across the world, there is no where that generation, transmission and distribution of electricity is the sole responsibility of the government. There are lots of innovations in the power sector; people use wind, people use waste energy and so on. Government is using open arm in the power sector that is why it was privatised in the first instance.

What is your comment on the non-conclusion of investigations into how billions of naira appropriated for power sector was utilised?

Sometimes there are virement, money meant for some certain sectors is taken with the approval of the National Assembly to fix other sectors. So if somebody takes the statistics of the budget as passed initially, would that person be in the know how much of that money has been spent and on what sector? Government is continuous.

Sometimes our statistics are bound to be wrong because we have limitations, to the extent that we do not have all the facts.

Why is information not made available to the public?

I am not the ministry, neither am I speaking for anyone, because as part of the legislative arm, I see it in the perspective that affect us. There are lots of things happening in government; it is not that they don't want you to know but government officials do not deem it is important to be disseminated to the public. I have taken the government up on some of the issues of power sector improvement.

I know how much was allocated to the power sector and how much of that money was released. This was a national budget and approval duly gotten. There are projects that were awarded and not up to 20 percent or 30 percent was completed and so we have the bulk of 70 percent of the projects not completed.

We have worked on the 2013 appropriation and one of the things we did was to find ways of capturing the unutilised fund and unfinished capital projects of 2012.

It took us some time to work this out, even the linguistic approach to move things properly without hurting any sides. Our intention was patriotic and nationalistic, to ensure all the projects captured in 2012 but not worked on or only half done were completed with the unspent fund that are statutorily budgeted for but which would be returned to the treasury into 2013.

Nigerian engineers are reportedly helping other countries to improve their power sector. Why is it difficult for them to perform same feat here. Is it then possible for every part of the country to have stable power supply?

First, we need sincerity of purpose; secondly, there must be conscious, deliberate and concerted effort to say we agree on this; thirdly we must de-emphasise sentiments. On the surface value of your question, I can say it is possible, the possibility is there but do we have the political will especially from the three arms of government to do so.

As part of our unregulated economy, Nigeria is the only country that has all the brands of cars manufactured all over the world. In other countries, you may not have more than five to seven brands of cars due to deliberate government policy.

In South Africa for example, all the C-Class Mercedes are produced in South Africa. When Mercedes Benz got there the government gave them that option, that nothing like bringing in parts for assemblage here after so and so number of years, everything must be produced here. The C-Class that you saw everywhere are being produced in South Africa.

In India in the 70s and early 80s, it was only foreign diplomats that used colour television sets, due to the determination by the government that they want it done in India, this led them to invest in research and development (R&D). Today India doesn't need your colour television, same goes for Tata cars and the tricycles which were developed and expanded on after the massive importation by Nigeria.

I once took up the Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala on the present administration's claim to prioritise power even with the presidential roadmap on power whereas the releases in the budget fault the claim.

The releases to the NSA are far higher than that of power. Power did not even come seventh to the releases for the NSA. If we fix power today, 70 percent of the nation's problems would have been fixed.

Every sector of the economy is important and you can't fix every sector of the economy the same year, but if the power sector is fixed with commitment of purpose and political will and also prudent management of available resources, we can get it done even beyond our expectations.

Why are the laws regulating the power sector not working?

Sabotage would always exist when you do not have laws that are backed with sanctions. What are the sanctions that we have today? When you apply the sanctions here, it would take ethnic and religious dimensions. A law that is not backed with sanctions cannot be obeyed by anybody. Until we have a country that will ensure that the laws are obeyed to the letter, it may be difficult to get it done. This is beyond money, with political will to do it, the power sector can be what we can all be proud of.

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