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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Reps grill Amaechi, BPE officials over $214m Deep Blue contract


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THE Bureau of Public Procurement has told the House of Representatives’ Committee on Navy that it does not possess the documents presented by the HSL International Limited, which the Federal Government awarded the ‘Deep Blue Project’ contract, before the firm was issued a Certificate of No Objection.

According to the BPP, the documents on HSL International Limited were returned to the Ministry of Transportation after the certificate was issued to the company.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had on June 11, 2021, inaugurated the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure in Nigeria, also known as the Deep Blue Project, at the ENL Terminal, Apapa Port, Lagos State.

The contract is said to be worth $214,830,000, including $195,300,000 for the actual contract and an additional $19,530,000 NIMASA agreed to pay to HSL for ‘Management Training Consideration.’

The committee, on Tuesday, grilled the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi; and the leadership of the BPP led by the Director-General, Mamman Ahmadu.

The Corporate Affairs Commission had at the last investigative hearing by the committee on March 9, 2022, told the lawmakers that HSL International Limited was not registered with it.

The Chairman of the committee, Yusuf Gagdi, had stated that the lawmakers were shocked when the CAC said it did not have HSL on its records, asking the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; and the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Bashir Jamoh, to come forward and provide details of the company.

However, the committee did not raise the issue during Amaechi’s presentation on Tuesday but grilled the BPP officials on the firm instead.

The lawmakers stated that for the BPP to issue Certificate of No Objection, the conditions set by Section 16 of the Public Procurement Act must have been met, especially by a contractor.

Gagdi stated that part of the terms of reference of the committee was to look at the contract agreement and the legitimacy of the contract.

The Director,  Agriculture and Water Resources, BPP, Isaiah Yesufu, who the DG said was the officer that reviewed the procurement processes leading to the issuance of the certificate on the project, recalled that the request got to the bureau through the Ministry of Transport in 2017.

Yesufu said the request was for HSL International Limited to carry out the provision of some security equipment for the coastlines. He also disclosed that the request was for direct procurement due to the security nature of the project, stressing that the law permits single sourcing for such projects.

He said, “Under the law, there is a section that permits the use of direct procurement under the security related issues and this procurement had a letter from the Office of the National Security Adviser and Office of the President indicating the security nature of the project. Under that, we approved the use of direct procurement.

“We went through the processes; we looked at the request that the ministry made, we looked at documents that were submitted. We were satisfied with them and we issued the Certificate of No Objection. We submitted the review report which contains the details of our findings.”

Gagdi also stated that part of the mandate is the legitimacy of the contract. “We expect the BPP to tell us reasons why Certificate of No Objection was issued in respect of this contract,” he said.

The chairman went on to read CAC’s letter to the committee denying knowledge of HSL International Limited. “They did not say no but said they did not have the records. You will give us what the ministry sent to you. Give us the summary in one minute. We investigated the status of this company; maybe we are the ones that are committing the errors. Give us those things,” he partly said.

Responding, Yesufu stated, “The issue of a company being on CAC register; if it is an international company, the law does not exclude them from participating in procurement in Nigeria. There is what we call international bidding; it is not only Nigerian companies, the law permits international companies to participate in our procurement, it does not forbid them. If they are not on the CAC register, it is not an offence; it is just that they are an international company.”

The BPP director noted that the company met all the conditions prescribed by Section 16(6) of the PPA.

The lawmakers then asked why the BPP failed to forward evidence that HSL had the financial capacity and met the other requirements listed in Section 16(6) of the Act, based on which the bureau issued the certificate.

Yesufu said, “First of all, the documents that were brought, which was the basis for our review, were brought in 2017. And when we conclude our reviews, we don’t keep them; we have returned them back to the Ministry of Transportation. What we are going to do is (that) we are going to write to them to bring those documents back. We will not try to retrieve them…”

Several members of the committee were miffed by the comment, asking why the BPP did not keep copies of the document.

The Chairman of the committee, in his ruling, asked the BPP to produce the documents next week.

Earlier in his presentation, Amaechi stated that the project followed due process while all conditions prescribed by the various laws were met. He said after the publication of ‘Request for Proposal’, the BPP was approached which issued an approval for Certificate of No Objection.

The minister also said the project was taken to the Federal Executive Council and it was approved. “Subsequently, we have been going through the cabinet approval in implementing this. And we have implemented it by saying that everything that was to be bought was bought, cleared, installed and handed over to about three or four agencies,” he added.

He further said, “What I don’t know is about payment because as minister, my responsibility is just to approve up to the cabinet level. After that, NIMASA is responsible for implementing it. As the supervising minister, I have the special interest in making sure that the contracts are delivered, because my interest is to ensure that there is security on the waters.

“So far, there is security as it pertains to merchant ships. At least, we have reduced the number of attacks that we used to have on the waters. That is what the situation is now.”

Credit: Punch