There was mild drama at the venue of the hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Markets probing the near collapse of the country’s capital market when all the heads of the directorates of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took turns to wash their hands off the controversial decision of the Director General, Arunma Oteh, to hire two Access Bank staff to work for the organisation.
Members of the committee had raised questions of possible conflict of interest involved in Ms. Oteh sitting on the Board of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), current owners of some companies listed in the capital market, which she would have the responsibility to superintend over as head of the regulatory institution.
Though the SEC boss saw nothing abnormal about her membership of the AMCON Board, as her appointment was from government and confirmed by the National Assembly, in line with the practice globally, her explanation on the issue of hiring of Access Bank staff appeared unconvincing to members of the committee.
“I have not faced any issue of conflict of interest in the handling of issues concerning AMCON so far,” she said. “There are a number of processes that have been put in place to limit the possibility of conflict of interest, particularly in the approval processes.”
According to her, the recruitment of the two Access Bank staff was part of the decision by her management to hire some professionals, including some 52 young professionals, to provide the stop gap measure, while the problem of human capacity that existed in key departments of the organisation was being addressed.
She had told the Committee that after several meetings with members of the Commission’s top management, a decision was taken on the need to solicit support from multilateral banking institutions and the private sector to revamp its sub-optimal ICT infrastructure, in view of the long process involved in recruiting full-time staff from government agencies.
Consequently, she said Access Bank which was one of the institutions that offered to provide support to the Commission, had sent two of its staff, a project adviser and communications assistant, to work in the non-core regulatory functions of SEC on pro bono basis, while the International Finance Corporation (IFC) offered to facilitate the process in the bond market.
The projects adviser, she explained, was expected to provide support for SEC facility management of its offices, particularly the brand expansion project as part of the Commission’s plan to have capital market resource centres in seven locations across the country, while the communications assistant was responsible for the ICT infrastructure of the commission.
“SEC received technical assistance from multi-lateral banks, the sister regulatory institution and the private sector, because of how long it takes to recruit full-time staff from government agencies,” she said.
When asked if she did not see the possibility of the recruitment of the two Access Bank staffs compromising her regulatory functions, being a listed bank in the capital market, Ms. Oteh was emphatic that it would not, as the Commission always ensured that laid down rules, procedures and processes are strictly complied, including the processing of any transaction relating to Access Bank.
Though she claimed that the issue was discussed at different meetings with her management members on the need to get support from different institutions outside and the process of getting a pro bono support, all the members denied that the recruitment was ever a management decision.
The Directors in charge of Administration, Operations, and Legal as well as Secretary to the Commission all claimed they were neither at the meeting where the idea was muted nor at where the decision was finally taken.
“I did not have specific discussion with the Executive Commissioner of Legal on taking on Access bank staff, but we had several discussions with others on the need to solicit support from the private sector,” she said.