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PHCN: New investors to take over on Nov. 1 …six months lay-off grace for workers

By The Citizen

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) announced on Thursday that the new owners of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) successor companies would now finally take over operations of the privatised utilities on November 1, 2013.

Speaking at a public hearing and workshop on the regulation of the electricity market post-privatisation, the Deputy Director, Electric Power Department of BPE, Amaechi Aloke, told investors that the physical handover had been approved.

From the handover date, government's managers who control the facilities will give way to private investors who have bought them over. But the workers who have until now manned the facilities will not be sacked immediately, even though they would have all been paid their entitlements.

He announced that the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) had directed that the workers must be given a six-month lay-off grace, following which the new owners would be at liberty to disengage and recruit as they deem fit.

In fact, going by the latest information from officials, they will be retained on contract by the new owners for a duration which government insists must be at least six months.

Through the reforms occasioned by the privatisation, which is coming to an end in a few weeks' time, electricity production will be controlled largely by private entities, distribution fully by private entities, and transmission fully by the Federal Government. Under this arrangement, the operational control of gas production and transmission will largely be in the hands of private entities, while electricity production and distribution will be operationally controlled in full by private entities.

President Goodluck Jonathan had on September 30, 2013 formally handed over its shares in 14 of the 18 successor firms of the PHCN to new owners. And because labor payments and related issues had not been concluded, the actual handover of the utilities to the new owners was scheduled for a later date.

On its part, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has warned that though the new owners paid huge amounts for the facilities, it remained the regulator and that it would not allow them to dictate to it, or to the government.

The Chairman of NERC, Sam Amadi, said: 'In making rules, we need to listen to all stakeholders, operators, experts and those that will be impacted by the rules. We will not make rules without the input from those to be affected by the rules. We will write the rules; not the operators or disco roundtable but NERC will write the rules.

'We believe that the operators and consumers do not have irreconcilable interests. Our job is to converge their interests into a single commitment to provide to every Nigerian home and business access to adequate, reliable and safe electricity.'

The Deputy General Manager, Market Competition and Rates at the commission, Abdulkadir Shetimma, presented the draft interim market rules expected to guide the electricity industry between November 1, 2013 when the electricity firms will be handed over to the investors, and February 28, 2014 when the Transitional Electricity Market (TEM) will commence in full.