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MP Owen Paterson faces suspension for breaking lobbying rules

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MP Owen Paterson faces suspension for breaking lobbying rules

The Tory MP Owen Paterson faces a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules, raising the possibility he could lose his seat if enough constituents trigger a byelection.

The former cabinet minister was found to have breached paid advocacy rules, two years after the Guardian published documents revealing how the former environment secretary helped lobby for two firms he was paid to advise – Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.

Paterson claimed the investigation by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary standards commissioner, did “not comply with natural justice” and had played a “major role” in the death of his wife, Rose, who took her own life in June 2020.

Stone’s investigation, which was launched in October 2019, found Paterson had worked as a consultant to Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, since August 2015, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a processor and distributor of meat products, since December 2016.

She said he made three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk; seven approaches to the same agency relating to Lynn’s Country Foods; and four approaches to ministers at the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology.

Following her investigation, the standards committee – which contains MPs from different political parties, including several Conservatives – launched its own investigation, and the results of both were published on Tuesday.

The committee revealed Paterson had failed to declare his interest and used his parliamentary office on at least 16 occasions for business meetings with his clients between October 2016 and February 2020, and sent two letters relating to his business interests on taxpayer-funded Commons-headed notepaper.

Paterson was also found to have committed “an egregious case of paid advocacy”, “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant”, and brought the Commons into disrepute. It said: “No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests.”

The committee recommended Paterson be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days.

Under a law introduced in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, any MP suspended for more than 10 days can face a trigger ballot where their constituents decide whether to force a byelection by supporting a recall petition. Ten per cent of the electors in Paterson’s seat would need to support the petition for a byelection to be called.

Paterson, who is also a former Northern Ireland secretary and prominent Brexit campaigner, claimed the investigation was biased and “offends against the basic standard of procedural fairness that no one should be found guilty until they have had a chance to be heard and to present their evidence including their witnesses”.

He said Stone did not speak to him to get his side of the story until after she had “made up her mind” and did not seek oral evidence from 17 witnesses who wanted to testify in his support. “I am not guilty and a fair process would exonerate me,” he added.

Last summer, Paterson’s wife of 40 years killed herself. “We will never know definitively what drove her to suicide, but the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role,” he said in a statement responding to the commissioner and committee’s ruling.

“Rose would ask me despairingly every weekend about the progress of the inquiry, convinced that the investigation would go to any lengths to somehow find me in the wrong. The longer the investigation went on and the more the questions went further and further from the original accusations, the more her anxiety increased.

“She felt beleaguered as I was bound by confidentiality and could not discuss this inquiry with anyone else. She became convinced that the investigation would destroy my reputation and force me to resign my North Shropshire seat that I have now served for 24 years.”

However, the standards committee said there was no evidence Stone had shown any evidence of bias and called it “completely unacceptable” for Paterson to have made “unsubstantiated, serious, and personal allegations” against the work of his scrutineers.

Questions were raised about Paterson’s business dealings in April 2019, when it was revealed he was being paid nearly £100,000 by Randox to act as a consultant, while helping lobby the government to seek contracts for the same multinational firm.

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British Airways grounds aircraft, apologises for hitch

British Airways has grounded its aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, due to a technical fault.

The airline has, however, apologised for the flight disruption.

The airline’s Regional Commercial Manager, Nigeria and Ghana, Mrs Tutu Otuyalo, told journalists on Friday that the carrier had apologised to passengers.

She said that the airline would  take up the costs of accommodation and meals for affected passengers.

Otuyalo said that the majority of passengers had been accommodated on other flights, while the carrier’s team continued to work hard to book the remaining customers on a flight as soon as possible.

“We will cover accommodation and meal costs for the customers.

“We would never operate a flight unless it is safe to do so. Most of the affected passengers have been re-accommodated to other flights.

”We have been in contact with our customers to apologise for the delay in their flight caused by a technical issue with the aircraft,” she said.

Some of the affected passengers have been endorsed on available carriers such as Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines.

Recall that British Airways flight number BA 74, which was scheduled to depart  Lagos for Heathrow, London, at 10.50 p.m. on Wednesday,  suffered a hitch as the scheduled aircraft developed a technical problem.

The flight was rescheduled and later cancelled due to the technical problem.

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NERC approves N21b for purchase of meters

Govt directs electricity companies to charge Nigerians per hour

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has announced the approval of N21 billion for 11 electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) to provide meters for customers.

This announcement was made in NERC’s ORDER NO: NERC/2024/072 on The Operationalisation of “Tranche A” of the Presidential Metering Initiative Under the Framework of Meter Acquisition Fund.

”The order signed by NERC Chairman, Mr Sanusi Garba and Commissioner Legal,  Dafe Akpeneye, shall become effective from June 2024 and may be amended or revoked by subsequent orders issued by the commission.

“The commission hereby approves the  sum of N21 billion apportioned pro rata to contribution by the DisCos as Tranche A of the MAF scheme.

”Attached to this order as Schedule 1 is a breakdown of the funds available for each DisCo for the purchase of end-use customer meters.

”All the meters to be procured and installed under the MAF framework shall be at no cost to the customers of the DisCos,” it said.

According to NERC, it introduced the Meter Asset Provider (“MAP”) Regulations 2018 and subsequently, the Meter Asset Provider and National Mass Metering (“MAP&NMMR”) Regulations in 2021 to address metering challenges in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (“NESI“).

NERC said that the regulations provided several options for metering end-use customers but the interventions, though significant, had not resulted in the closure of the national metering gap which currently stood in excess of seven million customers.

”The inability of distribution companies (DisCos) to raise financing in the form of debt or additional equity was identified as the major constraint in the acquisition and deployment of end-use meters and other capital investments.

”The Meter Acquisition Fund (MAF) scheme was therefore, developed and approved by the commission, primarily to address the challenges of DisCos creditworthiness inhibiting the deployment of end-use meter in NESI.

”By creating a credible revenue stream from the market funds on the back of which long term financing may be secured by the utilities,” it said.

NERC said that the management of Fund Manager (FM) based on terms and conditions, negotiated by the DisCos and approved by the commission.

According to the commission, the federal government approved the Presidential Metering Initiative (PMI) with the overarching objective of closing the metering gap in the NESI within three years leveraging on smart metering technologies for data analytics.

The MAF shall form one of the revenue streams for the repayment of the long tenor financing for metering.

The order also revealed that the commission approved the deregulation of meter prices under the MAP scheme vide Order NERC/2024/040 to ensure an efficient pricing of meters while responding more quickly to changes in macroeconomic parameters.

“The order provides that all prices of meters under the MAP scheme shall be determined through a transparent and competitive bidding process by eligible MAPs.

“A competitive bidding process was held on  May 21, 2024 based on the provisions of Order NERC/2024/040 where a total of 24 ( MAPs participated across the 12 DisCos.

”A total of 44 bids were submitted for 10meters specifications,” it said.

NERC said the deployment of funds under the MAF scheme would accelerate the deployment of meters and a closure of the current metering gap.

”Thereby reducing commercial and collection losses to DisCos, enhancing quality of service and improvement of customer satisfaction,” it said.

NERC also noted that while the NESI is expected to leverage on the revenue stream under the MAF framework to raise substantial capital funding for metering, there was an imperative to accelerate a closure of the metering gap for all customers.

”Currently classified under tariff Band A for the purpose of revenue protection and facilitating demand side management for the affected customers.”

NERC said that the DisCos should utilise the first tranche (Tranche A) of disbursement from the MAF scheme based on contributions made by DisCos as at the April 2024 markets settlement.

It said that attached to this order as Schedule 1 was to procure and install meters for unmetered Band ‘A’ customers within their franchise areas.

The commission said DisCos shall, within 14  days from the effective date of the order, conduct a transparent and competitive procurement process, for meter price determination, selection and engagement of MAPs/LMMAs for the metering of end-use customer meters under the MAF scheme.

”The order also directed that a report containing details of the process undertaken for the selection of MAPs/LMMAs including meter price, meter specifications.

”And the list of customers to be metered shall be sent to the commission for approval, within 20 days from the effective date of this Order.

” Upon approval of the commission, the DisCo shall enter into contracts with selected MAPs/LMMAs on one of the following terms,”it said.

The commission said that where an Advance Payment Guarantee (APG) issued by a commercial bank in the country is provided by a qualifying MAP/LMMA, 30 per cent of the contract sum shall be paid by the FM on behalf of the DisCo to the MAP/LMMA.

” Upon execution of the contract. A further two milestone payments shall be made upon the completion of 60 per cent of contracted quantities and 100 per cent of the contract respectively, with the funds advanced against bank guarantee amortized over the payments.

“Where the MAP/LMMA do not request an advance payment, the milestone payments shall be made upon the verified installation of 20, 60 and 100 per cent respectively of the contracted volume of meters.

”A vendor may, at his option, defer payment until the completion of the installation of the contracted volumes.

“DisCos shall ensure that all the necessary resources and network clearance required by the MAP/LMMA to install meters based on installation plans are provided and/or completed,” it said.

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Nigeria’s public debt now N121trn – Debt Management Office

exchange rate

The Debt Management Office (DMO) says Nigeria’s total public debt has reached N121.67 trillion within three months.

The Cable reports that this figure represents an increase of N24.33 trillion or 24.99 percent from the N97.34 trillion as of December 2023.

Nigeria’s public debt profile consists of the federal and subnational governments’ domestic and external debt stocks — the 36 states and the federal capital territory (FCT).

According to the DMO, the increase was primarily due to new domestic borrowing by the federal government to partly fund the deficit in the 2024 budget as well as disbursements by multilateral and bilateral lenders.

“Total domestic debt was N65.65 trillion (USD46.29 billion) while total external debt was N56.02 trillion (USD42.12 billion). Excluding naira exchange rate movements in Q1 2024, only the domestic debt component of total public debt grew from N59.12 trillion on December 31, 2023, to N65.65 trillion on March 31, 2024.

“The increase was from new borrowing to part-finance the 2024 Budget deficit and securitization of a portion of the N7.3 trillion Ways and Means Advances at the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“Whilst borrowing, as provided in the 2024 Appropriation Act, will continue, we expect improvements in the government’s revenue to enhance debt sustainability.”

On June 13, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, announced the approval of two major “financial support packages” by the World Bank — valued at $2.25 billion. In May, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) said the federal government has secured a $500m World Bank loan to boost electricity distribution in the country.

Prior to this, the federal government had received $750 million from the World Bank for humanitarian and social reforms and $1.5 billion for its economic stabilisation plan.

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