The Nigerian Ports Authority NPA has broken its silence over alleged irregularities in the award of the dredging contracts in the Escravos, Warri Port and the Calabar Port channels, insisting that the awards followed every known due process provided in the extant laws.
This against the backdrop of speculations that the dredging contracts were allegedly awarded to a dredging firm that had been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction in Switzerland, contrary to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Managing Director of the authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, who reacted to these speculations, told newsmen that in the course of the procurement process of the contract award, the management received a petition to the effect that a pre-qualified company had been convicted in Switzerland.
According to her, being mindful of the fact that the authority is already aware of the conviction, especially having been a partner in one of our Joint Ventures JV, the management submitted the conviction document to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, and the Attorney-General of the Federation drawing their attention to the fact that the company had been convicted.
It was however gathered that the said conviction was in relation to a payment that was made to certain individuals within the NPA and Federal Ministry of Transport and other agencies to facilitate payment of invoices from NPA.
The MD also said that the information they provided from the Swiss court was that NPA refused to pay them their JV invoices, demanding for payment, and they now allegedly paid some money to certain individuals to facilitate the payment of their invoices.
The information from the court also indicated that since the company was operating in Bonny, they were asked to pay for security, as some militant groups had allegedly requested for money to enable them access to their dredging site, as well as listing the people that they paid the money to, which made the court to sanction and convict the company for making payments outside the JV.
“Upon receipt of that conviction document, I forwarded it to the EFCC with all the attendant attachment, listing the beneficiaries of those payments asking them to investigate further.
“One year later, a subsidiary of the company now bided for a dredging job with the NPA. In the course of the tender process, we had a petition that the subsidiary was also convicted. So, we sent them a letter. They had submitted to us a sworn Notary affidavit that they are not the company that was convicted. We further asked them and they replied to us.
We proceeded with our tender process and submitted the letter to the Bureau of Public Procurement BPP, which directed us to do an independent investigation of the affidavit again. We had a Law firm. The Law firm did an independent investigation of the company and the conviction, and made a submission that this company is a subsidiary of the company that was convicted. Each company has a different legal personality and has different legal profile; can sue and be sued.
During the conviction of the subsidiary, two directors of the company were also convicted, and these are not the same directors in the subsidiary company. However, the company that has been driving this, is the same company that we cancelled their contract in Calabar.
“If you recall, we terminated the Calabar dredging, we terminated the joint venture. The company had made claims of payment of $21 million that they did not do. We could not verify so we terminated it. We called them and asked that they paid back governments $12 million that was paid to them. Also, the company was engaged through a process that was not in compliance with the public procurement act.
In fact, there was a letter from the DG BPP, where he wrote that this companys appointment was in gross violation of the Public Procurement Act. The President was advised never sign up the JV with this company that is now petitioning us. On the one hand, I am very mindful and ensure that we are in compliance with public procurement processes; everything we did we submitted to BPP, which guided us and provided us with everything.
Upon submission of the independent investigation, BPP also conducted their own independent investigation, came back to us and said we have looked at your independent investigation and we have done our own and the results were the same, so, proceed with your procurement process, and that is what we have done, the MD also said.
She however lamented that the continued campaign and amount of resources allegedly spent on this is worrisome, arguing that in an ideal situation, the company should not be allowed to bid because they were just recently terminated last year for having claims of dredging work that you did not do.
Investigation also shows that another reason for the termination of their contract was the violation of every form of procurement process in their JV and yet the company has not been blacklisted by the NPA.
In addition, there was also an advertorial where they claimed I am chairman of BCC and the Executive Directors are among directors of the BCC, and that we are awarding contracts to ourselves. I am only a chairman of BCC by virtue of being the MD of NPA; it is not Hadiza that is the chair. NPA is chairman of the Board because it owns 60 per cent of BCC, but BCC is not even the company that is tendering for the work.
“They also claimed that there were arithmetic computations of the figures, when there is a financial bid opening, avenue is provided for you for computation of your numbers to ensure that it is in line with what was submitted in your bill of quantity, but they go ahead manipulating information to give wrong impression.
“We did due diligence and saw that their equipment cannot dredge Warri Port. I remember discussing with them during the public hearing that it is as if what you did in Calabar port is what you want to come and do in Warri; you come get the job and you dont have equipment to do it and you manipulate your way, take the money for the contract, bribe everybody to sign your document and two years later we will establish that the dredging works have not been done and we are back to the drawing board trying to reclaim government money from you the same way we did for Calabar.
But we will not be blackmailed in what we need to do. We will continue to collaborate with the media and provide them with the necessary information. We will maintain transparent regime. I welcome questions for clarification, the MD said.