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THE NATIONAL PRIVATIZATION COMMISSION NEEDS AN OVERHAUL

By: Winstanley R Bankole Johnson

It is the presumed institutional integrity of a few Broadcasting Houses that elicits our occasional inputs, as we comply with their presenters’ requests to us to “add our voices and or comments” to ongoing programmes. “Adding our voices and comments” therefore should be viewed only as complimentary to the basic tenets of Journalism which is to inform, educate and entertain via our counter views to further edify minds. No more, no less.

So I was quite taken aback by the recent palpably livid reactions of the Communications Officer (CO) of the National Privatization Commission (NCP) to my otherwise harmless text message to the Radio Democracy 98.1FM as follows-:

“Privatization is not synonymous with management restructuring. The NCP Head is neither a Super Chairman of all Parastatals; nor does the privatization Act of 2002 allow NCP representation on the Boards, or their meddling in the management, recruitment, promotion and procurement processes of Parastatals as they currently do. The NCP Act is overdue for review if government is serious about reducing corruption and overstaffing in Parastatals”

 

Discipline

As can be deciphered, the above text beyond its strategic business connotations inferred nothing personal or malicious. Rather, it addressed my perceptions about the malaises plaguing the NCP in particular, and the causes for inefficiencies in our Parastatals in general. Yet the NCP CO personalized his response and even slanted my text contents by misinforming listeners that I had aspersed on the competence and integrity of the incumbent NCP Chairman Dr. Michael Kargbo by declaring him “unfit” for the post. He sounded so livid that he had to be thankfully restrained by the presenters of the programme, for which I was grateful.

 

The no love lost between the NCP and myself (for very good reasons though), aside, I need to categorically state publicly that my discipline precludes me from ever straying away from business issues and to descend to the depths of attacking personalities especially as in this case where my profound respect for the incumbent Chairperson aside, I have neither the competence to evaluate Dr. Michael Kargbo, nor the audacity to challenge or question appointments of H.E the President.

 

“Set Fire”

In sending my text contribution, due cognizance was taken of the civil servants’ propensity to grovel for favours (in the same way they do to the Presidency), and so to take the wind of the CO’s sails, I copied that same message to the NCP Chairman and to two of his key aides to wit-: Mr. Abdul Aziz Tejan Jalloh and Mr. Charles Sesay, all of whom would of course have realized that indeed, their CO twisted the contents of my harmless text to deliberately misinform the public and “set fire” between me and the NCP.

The Act

In defense of their entity, the CO directed my/our attention to Sec.10 of the NCP Act of 2002 which has been regularly misconstrued to arrogate airs of some non-existent authority the NCP purports to have over Parastatals. That Section which incidentally is the basis of my convictions and defense is profusely reproduced hereunder as follows-:

PART 111 – FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMISSION

10 (1) The object for which the Commission is established is to serve as the policy and

decision making body with regard to the divestiture and reform of public

enterprises; to transfer the management of all public enterprises to the

Commission, and to remove the interference in the management of

Public enterprises from line Ministries thereby ensuring transparency, corporate

Governance and avoidance of conflict of interest in the affairs of public

enterprises.

 

(2). without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), it shall be the function of the

Commission to-:

  • Act as a prudent shareholder, fully respecting the distinction between shareholding and management, manage and prepare all public enterprises for divestiture and delivery of efficient service
  • Approve policies for divestiture
  • Approve guideline and criteria for valuation of public enterprises for divestiture and choice of strategic investors
  • Recommend to government the legal and regulatory framework for public enterprises to be divested
  • Determine whether the shares of a public enterprise should be by public or private issue or otherwise
  • Determine the time when a public enterprise is to be divested
  • Approve the prices for shares or assets of public enterprises offered for sale
  • Act as interlocutor for all projects in the divestiture process or for public enterprises with the World bank and other donors
  • Review from time to time the socio-economic effects of the programme of divestiture and decide on appropriate remedies
  • Approve the appointment of divestiture advisers and consultants and their remuneration
  • Submit to the President and Parliament in each year a report on the activities of the Commission and the divestiture process
  • Receive regular and periodic reports from the Executive Secretary on programme implementation and give appropriate direction
  • Approve the budget of the Commission and supervise the activities of the secretariat of the Commission
  • Do all such things as will contribute to the attainment of the objects stated in subsection (1)

 

 

 

“Shrine”

Apart from Subsections (a) (c) and (g) of Sec.10 which infers a potential direct relationship between Paratstals and the NCP, the rest of the subsections of Section 10 (2) to wit-: (b), (d) to (f) AND (h) to (n) relate to the internal governance dynamics of the NCP; to avoid governance breaches and having regard to the clear legal distinction and separation of authority required of the Commission to-: “…..fully respect the distinction between shareholding and management….” So none of those provisions actually vests “power or authority” (Executive or otherwise) on the Commission over and above other Parastatals for them to:

  • sit on the Boards, or meddle in the management, staff recruitment at all levels and promotion processes of Parastatals
  • be instructing CEOs and senior management staff of Parastatals to do their bidding over and above directives from their respective Board Directorates – most times verbally. (CEOs and others who dare not comply are reminded of the short tenor of the Board directorates and further threatened with dismissal immediately upon expiry of such Board tenures)
  • insist that Parastatals obtain their regular “no objection” clearances for voluminous procurements; a failure of compliance with such verbal directives invariably breeds bad blood. The intentions here are obvious.
  • turn the NCP Chairman’s office into a shrine where weak Board Chairpersons and or their timid CEOs are treated as zombies and made to queue up outside for inordinately long hours as if to pay homage and to listen to his litany of threats

 

Abuse of Authority

Beyond matching demonstrable competence and proficiency to profitability plus maintaining excellent interpersonal relationships, Board Chairpersons do not have to be “liked” by the NCP Chairpersons to retain their posts, because in neither of their appointment letters from State House, nor upon Parliamentary confirmation is any CEO required to first go and pay homage to any NCP Chairman before resuming their posts. A Chairperson of a Parastatal is as much a Chairperson in his own right just like the NCP Chairperson in his own right as well, and insofar as the NCP Act of 2002 is concerned, neither subsumes the other.

 

The fact that twenty-four (24) Parastatals are listed in the First Schedule of the NCP Act as “Public Enterprises for Divestiture” should never be misconstrued by any NCP incumbent Chairperson as giving them overall “Executive powers and authority” to be “meddling” in their day to day management of Parastatals and be breathing down the necks of CEOs as if they are a “Super Chairman”.

 

In fact properly interpreted, beyond submissions of periodic Reports, none of the provisions of the NCP Act of 2002 permits personal contacts or direct NCP representations on any Parastatal Board, and even in a worst case scenario of determining, guiding, advising, directing, recommending and transferring Parastatals into divestiture, the NCP need not even be in contact with any of the respective targeted Board Chairpersons to do that – Ref. Sec.20 (Mode of Privatization) of the Act. So for the NCP to be “meddling” in the day to day management, recruitment, procurement processes of Paratstals as they do now is a complete abuse of authority and the sooner government addresses it squarely the better, because that was certainly not what the World Bank envisaged.

 

Limitations

Since the days of Public Enterprise Reform and Divestiture Commission (PERDIC – A.H Kandeh Esq.) and Sierra Leone Enterprise Divestiture Commission (SLEDIC – Chris Jasabe Esq.) both precursors of the NCP, there has never been an imperative need to clarify the limitations of the NCP to reduce institutional frictions than as at now. The government through the Attorney General’s office should take my recommendations for an overhaul of the NCP Act of 2002 very seriously, so as to eliminate persistent conflicts between the NCP and the various Paratatals it erroneously purports to “head”; conflicts that have often warranted the direct personal interventions of H.E the President. The need for all Parastatals to be allowed to function independently of direct and regular interferences by the NCP cannot be overemphasized.

 

In fact a clear case of the irrelevance of the NCP in the day to day management of for example, one of our National Banks as defined by the NCP Act was when former Governor Sambadeen Sesay, on account of sustained dismal performances (even with NCP representations on their Board), invoked Section 31 of the Banking Supervision Act by wresting, and later reverting direct day-to-day supervision of the S.L commercial Bank Ltd between October and December 2013 without prior consultations with, or reference to the NCP. During that phase the NCP was merely copied on developments, but never consulted. So how come the system has been allowing the NCP to be illegally flexing their muscles thus far and most time deceiving the government?

 

Ad-Hoc

A final respectful submission government would like to seriously consider is that Privatization by itself is neither a profession nor a vocation that should warrant the establishment of a permanent Commission. In other words the Commission cannot be “privatizing” for life, nor is it possible for all 24 Parastatals to be simultaneously divested. The intention of the World Bank was that once the basic generic frameworks have been developed, appropriate guidelines would then be followed for each Parastatal so targeted by the setting up of ad-hoc Divestiture Commissions and given a specific timeline of not more than two (2) years to complete their task – just like it is happening in Ghana and in many other countries, or as we do for our National Constitutional Review Commissions.

That done, and trust me, the potential financial benefits to government will be enormous.

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