Controversy dogs RCC’s alleged bribery of FERMA officials

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Alhaji Sanusi Dagash, Works Minister
Controversy is raging in the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) over claims that an Israeli construction firm, Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) bribed some officials of the agency to review a damning report it issued on the company's poor performance on some road projects.

FERMA had recently rejected the continued inclusion of RCC, Bulletine Construction Company, Trans Engineering Nigeria Limited, and Dekit Construction Company from its list of firms handling federal government projects over what the agency said was the companies' “very bad” performance on earlier projects.

In a letter dated November 2, 2010, the FERMA told BPP that while it could not question its right to choose contractors to bid for works, it was however constrained to draw the Bureau's attention to the four companies which it said “currently have contracts with the Agency (FERMA), but have performed very badly.”

FERMA further stated in the letter which bore reference number FERMA/MD/CORR/BPP/Vol.I/TI/25 that the warning letter and extension of the contract period it handed RCC did not do the agency any good as the construction company still didn't improve on performance.

“Needless to add that the poor performance of the contractors have caused public outcries,” lamented FERMA, adding, “In the light of the foregoing, the FERMA strongly feels that considering the antecedents of the contractors on FERMA jobs, it will not be in public interest to invite them for new jobs.”

The road agency forwarded copies of “Notices of Termination vide letters Ref Nos. FERMA/ED (W)CM/150/Vol. I and FERMA/ED(W)CM150/Vol.I/6 of December 21, 2009 and January 2010 to Messrs Bulletine Construction Ltd and Messrs Dekit Construction Ltd…warning vide letter Ref No FERMA/MMR/09-83/Vol. I/106 of July 8, 2010 to Messrs RCC Nig. Ltd.; and Termination of Contract Award vide letter Ref. No. FERMA/MMR/09-70/Vol.I/75 of March 5, 2010 to Messrs Dekit Construction Ltd.”

Information available to reveal that since the letter to BPP, top officials of RCC have been making overtures to key officers in FERMA and BPP to “review their hard stance and write another letter that they were misled to include RCC in the list of non-performing firms,” but that the moves have been, heretofore, unsuccessful.

Offered a FERMA official: “These contractors, particularly RCC have been anxious to get their names off our black book. They are sure aware of the short and long-term implications of this report. The funny thing is that they have been offering mouth-watering sums as bribes, but maybe because of the Halliburton scandal, I don't think anybody has agreed to take anything from them.”

Pressed for comments, another official of BPP confessed that he had heard passing comments about RCC officials “moving around to settle” under the guise of the Christmas season, but that he couldn't say how successful the move has been.

“You know our D-G (Nebolisa Emordi) had made it clear that government can no longer afford to do trial and error with road contracts, and had therefore given the nod that RCC, Bulletine, Dekit and Trans-Engineering be removed from the list of short-listed contractors, so anybody trying to bribe his way though is only wasting his time as the Engineer Emordi I know is a very principled man.

“If RCC, Bulletine and the others wish to try their luck elsewhere, one can only wish them luck. All that I can say is that no serious government agency can overlook FERMA and BPP's opinion on contractors before awarding them contracts, this explains why some of them are ready to do anything to make us budge,” he said.

The official however admitted that they were guided by the knowledge that, since the Halliburton scandal broke, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have taken more than a passing interest in contract awards to international companies.

The FERMA noted that RCC's pulling out of the Benin-Shagamu road, citing the kidnap of an expatriate staff on duty, two weeks to Christmas, further worsened its case, saying, 'but for our quick intervention, motorists traveling for the Yuletide would have seen hell simply because of the incompetence of RCC.”

Contacted, an official of RCC, who did not want to be mentioned, said there was nothing unusual about a construction company failing to meet deadline. He denied allegations that his company was offering bribes to make FERMA and BPP review their positions on his company, saying “we are a very big company and need not go about begging anybody or agency to give us jobs.”

Nigerian government officials are not new to controversies over briber by foreign companies.

Less than five months ago, German construction giant, Julius Berger agreed to pay the federal government $29.5 million as settlement for being an accessory and conduit for distributing bribes to top government officials in respect of Siemens and Halliburton bribery scandal.

Halliburton had in February 2009 pleaded guilty to federal charges in the United States that it paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to secure multi-billion dollar contracts in the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas company on Bonny Island, Rivers State.