The federal government has promised to ensure the payment of severance benefits to all Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) workers before handing over the assets of the distribution and generation companies unbundled from the power utility to their new owners.
To facilitate the handing over of the assets to the new investors, government yesterday announced that it had resolved extant labour-related issues stalling the privatisation exercise, which will lead to at least 38,000 verified PHCN workers receiving their entitlements before the end of this week.
Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, said Wednesday in Lagos at a Power Investors’ Summit organised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, that the physical handover of the assets would however take place before the declaration of Transition Electricity Market (TEM).
President Gooduck Jonathan, on Monday, had formally handed over certificates to the new investors with a pledge that the physical handover of the assets would be undertaken at the end of this month.
But Nebo, who was represented by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTFP), Mr. Bekks Dagogo-Jack, said unless the last man was paid all his entitlements, the physical handover would not take place.
He, however, added that every element of the agreement with labour unions in the power sector was being executed, while noting that the resistance of the workers against the physical takeover of the assets by the new investors was understandable.
The minister assured stakeholders in the power sector that the labour issues would be sorted out before the declaration of TEM, which he said would come on stream on January 1, 2014.
“TEM, when declared, will set the stage for business to be done as it should be done in an electricity market. We have reached a stage where a declaration can be made in no time. The physical handover will take place before the declaration of TEM. Unless the last man standing is paid, physical handover cannot take place. On January 1, 2014, TEM will come on stream,” he said.
He stated that the 10,000megawatts target projected for 2013 in the Power Roadmap inaugurated in 2010 had been reviewed, adding that a new roadmap with reliable projections had been developed for the power sector.
Nebo called for the quick passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), pointing out that certain aspects of the bill would drive gas development for power generation.
IFC’s Director for Infrastructure and Natural Resources, Mr. Bernard Sheahan, said the organisation supported the summit to help the federal government showcase the positive sector reforms achieved.
According to him, the federal government “is putting the right ingredients together for a sustainable power sector, making this the right time to crowd in private sector investment to solidify and put the sector on a long term path.”
IFC had unveiled plans to support the Nigeria’s power sector, through the Energy Business Plan.
The Energy Business Plan outlines the World Bank Group’s support for the addition of up to 1,500mw to the national grid through support to some Greenfield Independent Power Producers (IPPs) that should help improve electricity supply to eight million households.
At another occasion yesterday, the federal government said it had resolved labour issues threatening the ongoing privatisation of PHCN.
This is just as the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero, has urged all members of the union nationwide to suspend their planned strike and protest against government’s formal handover of certificates and licences to 15 new owners of successor generation and distribution companies of PHCN.
He urged the union to shelve the strike to give room for workers to monitor government’s readiness to fulfil its obligations on the payment of entitlements to its members.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Dr. Godknows Igali, said in a statement in Abuja that the PHCN labour issues implementation committee had resolved all contending issues hindering the process and pledged that at least 38,000 verified PHCN workers would have been paid their entitlements before the end of this week.
Igali however attributed the delay experienced during the exercise to the large number of people involved, adding that government has enough fund to offset accrued PHCN severance entitlements but was also careful to ensure that monies were not paid into wrong accounts.
He commended the labour union for their show of patriotism, saying that of the 47,000 PHCN staff, about 45, 366 persons have so far been biometrically captured.
He promised that the remaining persons would be captured after the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) has finalised its process.
The statement also quoted the AGF; Mr. Jonah Otunla, to have said that his office is always ready to pay all outstanding payments after all due process must have been followed, adding that government was willing to honour all its obligations to PHCN workers.
But Ajaero blamed government for sending wrong signals as regards the stoppage of payment of the severance benefits which had commenced earlier.
Information from This Day was used in this report.