Consultants accuse Taraba of withholding fund, frustrating Mambilla project
After about four decades of foot-dragging, the long-awaited commencement of the 3,050MW Mambilla hydropower project is facing another setback as the 10 consultant land surveyors handling the demarcation and mapping of the project site for construction and other ancillary services say the refusal of the Taraba State Government to pay them has stalled the project.
The representative of the surveyors, Mr Rotimi Apere-Akanji, who spoke on behalf of the nine others, explained that they had to leave the site because the project was no longer funded and several appeals to the state government to pay them were not heeded.
He therefore called on Governor Darius Ishaku to use his good offices to ensure payment so they could pay for the expenses they already incurred and return to site to finish their work.
Apere-Akanji told our correspondent that they were engaged by the Federal Ministry of Power in 2017, adding that since the project had to do with land, the ownership of which belongs to the state in accordance with the Land Use Act, the Federal Government conceded that the state government should take up that aspect of the project. Meanwhile, after the Federal Government remitted the money with the state government, the surveyors said the project had been frustrated by the way the state was releasing the money.
He narrated their ordeal, “We were commissioned since 2017, but we have been frustrated. There is a Memorandum of Understanding between Taraba State and the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Power. So, when we received our letters in 2017, the contract sum for each of the 10 consultants was about N97m. For the 10 of us, it was around N1bn. The Mambilla project is very big, so that explains the volume and scope of work we had to do.
“When letters were given to us, the initial payment was to be 35 per cent due to some preliminary works we had done. We were asked to raise an advance payment guarantee and we approached our banks, raised money and started working. We waited throughout 2018 and till November 2019 before we got something. The Federal Government already paid to the Taraba State Government.
“Our job included producing data and information for processing the Certificate of Occupancy and it is the governor that would sign the certificate. The state government also insisted that its agency would supervise the aspect of land survey and the compensation to be done by the estate surveyors. That was why we were to be paid through the state, otherwise the Ministry of Power would have been the one to supervise the land and estate surveyors that would do the demarcation and valuation for compensation respectively.”
Apere-Akanji noted that after payment by the Federal Government for over two years, the state government eventually called them that there was the need to review the contract and that the state would handle security and transportation instead of paying them the sum approved for both by the state government.
He added, “Due to the terrain, a Hilux pick-up was to be bought by each of the 10 companies, but the moment the money was collected, they (the state) said they were reducing the job of about N97m in 2017 to N40m about three years later, after we had started working.
“At that time, many of us were no longer comfortable with the way things were going, but based on the majority’s vote that we should go ahead having invested time and resources, we agreed to continue. So, we told them to pay and we would do our best.
“When they paid the initial sum, we asked for the security they promised to provide but they didn’t respond. We also asked for the vehicle, given the terrain of the site, but they didn’t provide them. So, we got stuck. We had to meet again and think of the way out. We managed to squeeze money out from what was meant for materials to pay for vigilantes and charter motorcycles because of the terrain.”
He lamented that even the tripartite meeting between it, the Federal Government and the state government over the issue had yet to yield the expected outcome.
He pointed out that between 2021 and April 2022, all the letters, sighted by our correspondent, written to the governor demanding payment for them to return to site were acknowledged by his office but nothing had been done, prolonging the completion of the all-important project.
Apere-Akanji noted, “We have our documents intact and relevant documents were submitted to the Bureau of Public Procurement, and it was based on this that the necessary approvals were procured, including the ‘No Objection Certificate.’
“In fact, the Taraba State Government used our documentation to access the funds from the Federal Government and immediately they got it, they sat on it and they called for another negotiation to reduce what was approved for us, after we received a letter of award since 2017.
“However, with the money paid to us so far, we have achieved about 50 to 55 per cent completion and a progress report was submitted to the state Commissioner for Power. We are working assiduously to complete the survey in record time for the next phase of this important national hydropower project to commence in earnest.
“But in view of the financial constraint the 10 consultant land surveyors are experiencing on site, we hereby request for the payment of the remaining 30 per cent of the contract sum. We understand this is within the purview of the governor as discussed during the tripartite meeting held in Abuja.”
He said the money paid to them was also subjected to multiple taxation, because the Federal Government removed the deductibles, while the state government did the same.
He stressed, “The Taraba State Government should pay us so we can return to site and complete the project. We have our records and the amount pending is not in doubt. For emphasis, we had to leave the site when we could no longer raise funds to do the job. We even wrote them when we were about to leave the site but nothing was done. We want it to be on record that we didn’t abandon our work. We are responsible professionals but we need the funds to complete the work.”
Another surveyor, Mr Oluropo Olajugba, who corroborated what Apere-Akanji said, noted that the Taraba State Government confirmed it received the money from the Federal Government.
Olajugba added, “We have been relating with the state government and we have held several meetings. The state government said it could only pay about 50 per cent of the approved sum for the project, and since we have spent a lot of resources and time, we agreed to go ahead. They paid 40 the 50 per cent of that sum they said they would pay and we returned to site.
“Our agreement was that the money would also include transportation, security and logistics but the state said it would make those ones available, but it did not. With the security situation in that area, it got to a point we had to notify them we were leaving, because we couldn’t continue working when there was no assurance that we would be safe. Besides, they didn’t release money again.
“So, we demobilised and told them we couldn’t return to site unless they were able to do what they promised. The little money sent to us did not even cover the money we had spent, so we couldn’t return to site.”
Olajugba pointed out that the consultants had to make the matter public to prevent a situation whereby they would be harassed or questioned by anti-graft agencies for abandoning the project.
He added, “We decided to make a noise because if we don’t, agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission could start harassing us that we did not finish the job or the job would go the way of the past and would never be completed. We are consultants and we have nothing to hide. We are not happy this has lingered since 2017.”
He explained further, “If you want to build a dam, the project would occupy an expanse of land and there would be a need to pay compensation to those whose land would be affected and a need to do the topographic survey and the design. These were the things we were consulted to do.
“Part of what they would use our survey for is to pay compensation, because it would pass through people’s land. There is no way the estate valuer who is supposed to value the land could work when our job has not been completed.”
Meanwhile, efforts to get the reaction of the Taraba State Government over the reason for the delay were not successful. The Commissioner for Power has resigned, while the Permanent Secretary in the ministry said he was not available for comment.
Similarly, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr Bala Dan-Abu, said he was not aware of the issue and could not comment on it. Also, the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr Gassol Alhassan, who oversees the Ministry of Information, did not answer several calls to his mobile.
However, a top source in the Federal Ministry of Power, said the Federal Government truly paid the money to the state government noting that it was surprising that the state was foot-dragging on paying the consultants.
The source said, “At the time, the Taraba State Government insisted they wanted to be a part of it and that they had Land Survey and Estate Valuation Departments and they would like to handle the survey aspect for full collaboration. We all know that for this kind of project, it’s not bad to collaborate with the state government so that the issue of compensation, security and networking would be easier.
“We agreed on the money, we signed a MoU and the money was released to the state government. The state hired the 10 surveyors on behalf of the Federal Government since the money was with them. The land area demarcation they give us is what we would give estate valuers for the purpose of paying compensation. These were for the smooth take-off of the project and for them to be part of it.”
The source said the surveyors had been paid about 65 per cent of the money, adding that they needed more money to return to site. “All along, they have been on the state government to pay them so they could return to site.” The source noted.
Asked what the Ministry of Power was doing about the delay, the source said the ministry already had discussions with the state government and it promised to pay about 10 to 15 per cent so the contractors could return to site.
“Now, the surveyors are sceptical,” he admitted. “That is because the state government promised to take care of their security and logistics for a smooth operation but they complained that the state did not fulfil that promise. But the governor has promised that as soon as they go back, their balance would be paid and the expenses they incurred for security and logistics would be settled. That is the stage we are. But like I said, the surveyors are sceptical.”
On the impact of the delay on the project, the official, who is evidently frustrated, said, “It has really slowed down the speed of the project, but we are talking to the governor to do the needful so these people could finish their work and we can move to the next stage.”
“We are all concerned. If this kind of development is coming to your state, you are supposed to take the bull by the horns and even encourage the Federal Government. But we all succumbed to your request and handed it over to you. Up till now, we are still talking about the same thing. No reasonable person would be happy about it.”
He said if the Mambilla project comes on board, a lot of people would benefit from it. “It will create jobs, power will be stable and insecurity will be taken care of because people will be engaged. When the power goes on the grid, everybody across the country benefits from it, but a lot of people, including some of our elite, don’t understand. It’s sad this small contract took this long,” he added.
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