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Stakeholders react over CBN’s roles in power, take-over of DisCos

By Kingsley Jeremiah, Abuja
24 August 2022   |   4:10 am
Stakeholders have said the interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the takeover of the distribution companies remain crucial to the survival of Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) as well as over N2.9 trillion government interventions in the sector.

Director-General of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alex Okoh

Stakeholders have said the interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the takeover of the distribution companies remain crucial to the survival of Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) as well as over N2.9 trillion government interventions in the sector.

Backed by the apex bank, DMBs had taken over five DisCos amidst poor performance and inability to pay back loans, a development which is already putting some banks on the edge of collapse.

With indications that the government’s intervention funds to the power sector now hover around N2.9 trillion since the sector was privatized in 2013, stakeholders insisted that the total collapse of the power sector would have had serious implications, not only for the banks but the entire economy.

In what has been described as poor financial performance, Abuja DisCo, Ibadan DisCo, Kano DisCo, Kaduna DisCo and the Benin Electricity Distribution Companies (BEDC) have been at loggerheads with the banks in a move backed by the CBN, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

Coming amidst a fresh $500 million loan by CBN to improve the capacity of the distribution companies, the development is happening at a time of global energy crisis where diesel is now hovering around N850 per litre, as the government spends heavily to subsidise Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).

A report by CSL Stockbrokers Limited, (CSLS) titled: “The continued rise of bank loans to power sector”, had last week, stated that the power sector owed N836.08 billion to Deposit Money Banks (DMBs).

The payback loans notwithstanding, the DisCos are indebted heavily despite huge stimuli from the Federal Government and interventions from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Prior to takeover, CBN had directed the Deposit Money Banks to take charge of the collection of electricity bill payments as a circular signed by Hassan Bello, director of banking supervision, had linked the move to the recommendation of the Power Sector Coordination Working Group to improve payment discipline in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

BPE had disclosed last week that it was working with CBN to ensure that banks, which took over the DisCos exit in six months, as the Director-General of the BPE, Alex Okoh, said the banks were not expected to hold the shares.

“In fact, in conjunction with the CBN, we have given them a deadline of six months within which to sell those shares to credible operators approved by the BPE and NERC and should they not be able to meet that deadline, they can be given a maximum extension of another six months. So in one year, they should be out of the DISCOs.”

Recall that the Distribution Companies (DisCos) are responsible for the sector’s revenue collection. While there was clamour for an increase in tariff, the sector’s inability to improve on the collection and reduce losses, a basic part of DisCos’ Key Performance Indicators, as well as inability to make remittance to the Bulk Electricity Trading Company remained serious concern for the sector.

A power sector analyst, Adetayo Adegbemle noted that the CBN’s role in protecting the collapse of the banks from power sector loan remained sacrosanct, adding that the indebtedness of the power sector to the banks would have led to their collapse.

“I love the fact that CBN came into the power sector, not just to save the power sector, even though they have roles to play in the sector, they came in to save their own banking sector.

“The loans that the power sector took from the banks have become bad and if you do not do anything, it is going to be on the books of the banks. So CBN backing the banks to take-over the shares is a good thing for CBN,” he said.

President of the Nigerian Consumer Protection Network, Kunle Olubiyo said the takeover has helped in averting massive job losses and prevented imminent collapse of the banking industry due to toxic loans.

According to him, those who were the pioneer investors in the DisCos are Nigerians, who meant well but lacked the requisite technical requirements of the original financial bidding benchmarks and technical bidding benchmarks as originally set out as thresholds for financial diligence as well as the technical due diligence.

“What is most important is our ability as a nation to rally round indigenous investors with the right financial muscles, who in turn can put together an assemblage of professionals with collective cognate experiences of working in the business of management of power generation, transmission and distribution value chain to apply and take over. I am quite sure that in the next one, the present crop of receivers managers would have learnt a lot from the multifaceted sector wide learning curves,” he said.

Partner, Nextier Power, Emeka Okpukpara, had earlier noted that the initiatives by the apex bank is reducing financial liquidity in the sector, and introduced transparency, which enabled players in the sector to have access to information.

According to him, aside from offering visibility to the sector’s finance, the efforts ensured payment of debts as first-line charges.

Okpukpara said: “The financial discipline allows visibility of what DisCos are collecting. It allows debts such as generation, services, and other charges to be settled first before operating expenses.

“Transparency, in most cases, increases trust in a system. Therefore, I would recommend that the collection figures are made public since DisCos are custodians of market funds, rather than the owners.”

While electricity consumers pay for the inefficiencies of the sector under a Service Based Tariff arrangement, stakeholders are miffed that the current takeover by the banks remained a pointer to poor corporate governance, technical and commercial losses as well as the dismal technical regulations in the power sector.

Recall that none of the DisCos, except EKEDC is currently able to meet the minimum remittance order set by NERC, just as none of them has declared profit for eight years.

Also, none of the DisCos have also met the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set by the sector, leaving consumers to pay for minor repairs and maintenance due to the country’s energy situation.

An energy lawyer, Madaki Ameh had stated that there was need for the total overhaul of the sector, insisting that the overhaul is long due and the takeover of the DisCos remained legally justified under the terms of the agreement, which brought them into the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

He said the DisCos have not met any of the minimum thresholds set for them by the government since privatisation despite the huge investment the government has continued to make in the sector.

“If you compare happenings in the power sector with the telecoms sector, you will see clearly that there were structural defects with the implementation of the privatisation policy in the power sector and that nothing short of a total takeover of the DisCos and some of the non-performing GenCos would deliver the sort of efficiency required to transform the Sector in Nigeria,” Ameh said.

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