Friday, 10 June 2016

POWER SECTOR REFORM: PROBING THE HIATUS IN FASHOLA’S ROADMAP

Barrister Babatunde Fashola, SAN
The minister with responsibility for Nigeria’s pivotal power sector, Barrister Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has recently released what he calls “a roadmap for change” in the sector. It is commendable that his effort in this arena will be underscored by planning and more so that he has chosen to share this plan with the public. This conveys a sense of mission.

Fashola’s roadmap is not different in any material way from the August 2010 “Roadmap for Power Sector Reform” the robust roadmap that was developed by the previous government. Incidentally, despite the lofty agenda of that apparently painstakingly-crafted plan, six years later, Nigeria still totters on circa 5000MW of power-generating and -transmission capacity respectively.

While such factors as corruption and insincerity of purpose can be listed among the causes of the failure of that otherwise meticulous plan, there is no doubt that hordes of genuine problems many of which hallmark the famed difficulty of doing business in Nigeria are also contributors. One of the most instructive but least recognised of these problems, in my view, has been citizen disinterest, arising from an inability or unwillingness of government to carry citizens along on its implementation journey. Not unexpectedly, therefore, initial public excitement soon gave way first to apathy and thereafter, sheer derision. If Fashola’s roadmap is not to go the way of its predecessor, it is pertinent that it is ardently confronted and interrogated by the average citizen.

Even without expressly stating it, Fashola may have tactically reduced Nigeria’s power target over the next five years by half. While the original roadmap set a target of 40000MW by 2020, Fashola has cut this to 20000MW, stating that the Transmission Company of Nigeria, “TCN, has expressed a desire” to increase transmission in a stepwise manner from today’s 5000MW through to 20000MW over the next five years.

What is the basis of the “desire” by the TCN to increase transmission capacity to 20000MW? Was it sequel to a proper feasibility study that articulated the technical, manpower, financial and other considerations?

In the face of the paucity of information regarding investment in the power sector, the 40000MW target by 2020 has long been unrealistic. But is there anything to suggest that this new target is realistic? How does the government intend to catalyze developments in the power sector to achieve a 400 per cent rise in power generating and transmitting capacity in a mere five years?

Fashola’s roadmap is silent on the level of funding (including private-sector-led and other direct foreign investment) that the power sector has so far attracted. Is this data unavailable or is this a case of inability or unwillingness to gather and process data? For such vital information is a critical compass of sorts with which an interested public monitors progress in an industry.

In the same vein, government needs to let Nigerians know how it intends to plug the gaps in the areas of capital inflows into the industry. It needs to explain more tactically, for instance, the imperative of jacking up electricity tariffs.

Government ministries, departments and agencies have historically been notorious defaulters in the area of paying electricity bills. What is Fashola’s plan to redress this? Are there specific incentives with which the power ministry is enticing investors for instance? Given the challenges that the distribution companies are facing with installing electricity meters in consumers’ abodes, why are they not being incentivised to patronise local manufacturers or assemblers of electricity meters?

What is government doing with regard to drastically minimizing the nightmare that conducting business in Nigeria has become for every legitimate business? What is being done to rid the country of the hordes of rent-seeking roadblocks from sundry agencies of all levels of government and even local communities?

Incidentally, Fashola mentions the crucial case of 907 abandoned equipment-bearing containers at the Lagos ports, but fails to address the more critical issue of the underlying causes. Would any company deliberately import container loads of equipment and abandon them at the ports? What is government doing about reforming the ports and its processes? Should we be realistically talking about revving up a logistic-intensive power sector and unveiling power targets from time-to-time when we have an evidently dysfunctional port regime?

Fashola states that Nigeria’s power generating companies are sub-optimised. For instance, of their installed 140 turbines which can generate up to 12000MW, only about 78 which can generate a peak of some 5000MW are operational. Given that these plants have either been long concessioned or sold to private investors, what has caused the delay in bringing the plants to full functionality? Have the plants been so damaged by irregular maintenance over the years that it is impossible to replace or repair the damaged turbines? Are the generating companies unable to access the capital to finance these repairs or replacements? Or is it a case of unavailability of expertise? Fashola merely gives the impression that the overhaul is currently ongoing which will guarantee “incremental power.”

Fashola also talks about an imperative to enrich the power mix by embracing other means of power generation than water and gas, but does not support this with evidence to show that anything significant is truly happening in this arena. Is there a blueprint with which the government intends to tackle this issue for instance? Are there offshore partners providing the relevant technical support? Is there a timeline for delivery?

The 2010 roadmap gave a December 2013 deadline for the completion of NIPP projects upon which they would deliver some 5000MW to the national grid. As this target was obviously not achieved, what are the remedial plans to help ensure these plants are finalised? What is the timeline for this?

Fashola has a big task to rekindle public interest in the power sector. Such interest will be critical at helping to mobilise social support including oversight for the activities in the sector. Social oversight will help the industry strive to achieve set targets even while availing it of the moral and other support with which to overcome such problems as tariff collection and others.

In rekindling public interest, Fashola would need to discard the politician garb and step into the SMART mode of the private sector. He would need to underscore his objectives with benchmarks that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Result-oriented and Timely. This way, stakeholders can have tangible aspects of the overall power roadmap on which to demand accountability from the government. (Guardian)