The Rivers State Government has denied bankrolling the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, with proceeds from its privatised asset, dismissing an allegation the governor, Chibuike Amaechi, supervised illicit sales of government property and diversion of public funds.
The government said the claims made by Tonye Princewill, the Labour Party candidate for next year’s governorship election in the state, are “utter nonsense” and are ill- conceived to tarnish its image.
“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,” the state commissioner of finance, Chamberlain Peterside, said in a statement Thursday.
“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,” the government said.
Mr. Princewill had in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES accused Mr. Amaechi of selling state-owned power plants and other companies valued at nearly $800 million.
He said proceeds of the deals were paid to a private account and were later deployed for the running of the APC at the national level.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Princewill reaffirmed his claims and called for an inquiry.
But the Rivers government said the allegations are false, as all funds realised from any government transaction were transferred to state coffers and judiciously deployed.
On Risonpalm, one of the companies Mr. Princewill identified as having been sold, the Rivers government said the firm was concessioned because despite being the largest palm plantation in West Africa with over 10,000 hectares, it had been moribund for years.
“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 SIAT assumed the debts/liabilities of the company and will pay annual royalties to Rivers State Government,” it said.
The government said already, SIAT has paid off all its obligations while revamping the operations and creating thousands of new jobs.
It said beyond annual royalties, the state stands to earn tax revenue that will boost its internally generated revenue.
On the sale of the state’s power plants, also questioned by Mr. Princewill, the Rivers government said it divested 70 per cent of the over 500 megawatts station due to poor management, delay in refund of sold power by PHCN and inadequate gas supply – factors that hindered regular electricity supply.
It said the proceeds of the deal were remitted to the government’s coffers and are used for other 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,” the government said.
In separate details provided to PREMIUM TIMES, the state government said the Olympia Hotel which had been comatose for 30 years was only revamped in 2012 and leased same year to Centrum Properties Limited & Cenpropsaroten Hotel Management Limited with a projected income of $1million, being concession fee and rent.
In addition to the concession fee, the new managers shall pay rent annually to the government after first five years, the government said.
Other asset include Supapod Building, leased to Artee Industries Limited in June 2011 with N200 million as projected income; and Hotel Presidential leased to Courdeau Nigeria Limited in 2009 with a projected income of ₦200 million yearly for first five years, and ₦220 million in second five years.
The government said it did not divert any income or proceeds from the deals.
“It simply beats my imagination that someone like him (Mr. Princewill) 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,” the finance commissioner said.
The government accused Mr. Princewill of initiating efforts to gain from many projects in the state.
“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,” it said. “Meanwhile the outcome of such projects remain questionable and far from the set objectives.”
The government said the Amaechi administration has instituted fiscal reforms that ensure transparency and to check corruption.
“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 also constantly sustaining and improving it,” the government said.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party candidate, Mr. Princewill has responded to the state government’s statement. He calls for an inquiry and specific details of each deal.
Read his comments below:
When we received the news that the Hon Commissioner of Finance had responded to news reports on the secrecy surrounding the sale of Rivers state assets to friends and cronies, we anticipated that finally we would have a meaningful engagement and that a debate on the issues was imminent. We quickly sought to see what details and substance he would provide. We were not expecting him to be totally open, because we knew he knew little about what was going on. However what we didn’t expect was an empty and verbose monologue.
Claims about a malicious publication, yet no redress sought from publishers, personal attacks on the Prince, bogus allegations and references to unnamed projects of questionable intent with no clear objectives, yet governments are the ones who should set objectives and deliver on them. Plenty waffle, little substance and in the end we are still where we are. Without answers. Little or no detail. All from a government of eight years.
He claims the Prince should keep quiet on the subject of public finance because in his words; “He knows nothing about it”. This is the arrogance we hoped to avoid. Any citizen should be able to ask basic questions on the state of our public finances. The money belongs to us. If there was indeed full disclosure as he claims, there would be no need to ask the obvious. But in order to give him the benefit of the doubt, we will ask again. Please Hon Commissioner,
1. Were assets sold? Name them and the transactions.
2. Who were they sold to? We want to know the names.
3. How much were they sold for? And how and when was it paid?
4. How was the figure determined? Was there a bid, a valuation, who participated?
5. Constantly he claims it is in the public domain. Name the publication.
6. Where exactly are the monies now?
The last point is very important. Important because the Hon Commissioner seems to suggest that the money is “steadily being deployed in the funding of ongoing infrastructure projects”. What does that mean? With what budget provision? Rivers people sincerely hope that this is not another code name for the stomach infrastructure of APC delegates and the unsuspecting Nigerian public in a general election.
He closed by saying he the Commissioner participated in “several of these transactions” not all of them, which immediately sounded alarm bells. Which ones did he not participate in? Is this a confirmation of the Prince’s fears? The Governor possibly acting outside the state’s financial system? There is more to this than meets the eye. You made no mention of Olympia and Abonema Wharf. Yet the Prince raised them too. Why?
If the statement from an Honourable Commissioner of Finance was not so weighty, this attempt would be laughable. I want to call on the state government to launch a full and independent inquiry into the sale of all these assets with immediate effect or give credence to the concerns raised by the candidate for the Labour party. This is not to be swept under the carpet.
The response by the Honourable Commissioner of Finance is laughable, unnecessarily rude and full of grammatical illusions. If I were to be a fly on the wall, one could almost state, with a high degree of certainty, that he did not write this statement unless it was at gun point. Money was received in the consolidated account he claims, but provides no details to guide us.
An election is coming and these and other issues are matters of importance to the people whom you have the privilege to serve. Rather than engage in personal attacks, it might be wiser to focus on the gravity of what is at stake. Public funds, public assets and public interest. Mr Commissioner, Prince Tonye Princewill is an Imperial college graduate of Mineral Resources Engineering and a Prince 2 certified project manager who understands more than you can imagine about public finance. He helped draw up the first budget for Rivers state under Rotimi Amaechi and was a member of the Economic Advisory council.
This is not about Tonye Princewill, Rotimi Amaechi or your Honourable self. It is about Rivers state and our people. A prompt response to the above laid down questions and requests are expected. The people await to hear from you. Preferably devoid of the insults. It’s best we focus on the issues. The people expect this from us.