Mint groans under failed INEC ballot printing job, N4b loan
• Doubts secure-proof of ballot papers, delivery time
• Award of contract to foreign firms in Nigerians’ interest, says commission
THESE certainly are not the best of times for the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) Limited called the ‘Mint’ as it has come under some heavy burden of servicing a N4 billion facility at a high interest rate of 22 per cent per annum for a failed anticipated N9 billion Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) job of printing materials for this year’s election.
Also, the firm is faced with the burden of purging itself of allegation of corruption, nepotism and favouritism.
That’s not all, the Mint which is also the Federal Government’s official currency and other security document printer has come under severe criticism and allegation of a ‘ kill and divide ‘ attitude – a parlance for under the table dealing in the contracting of the N4 billion loan facility from Zenith Bank Plc at the terms it did given the apparent almost near zero risk involved as far as the Mint establishment is concerned.
Another intriguing phenomenon thrown up in the failed INEC ballot printing material deal is the allegation that instead of the Mint management to either go for direct procurement of the machines it wanted to install for the INEC printing job and some of its sundry activities, the management headed for a third party agent it allegedly hand picked. This move was against the norm of going through public tender as it is required of all public institutions in line with public procurement rule meant to achieve value for government’s scarce resources.
In fact, close watchers of the matter including aggrieved staffers of the Mint and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) confided in The Guardian at the weekend that the INEC job deal which had gone sour was, “a neatly contrived deal amongst the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, who is also the chairman of the Mint, and immediate past Managing Director of Zenith Bank Plc, the Managing Director of the Mint , Joseph Ugbo and the current Managing Director/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc, Peter Amangbo all of who are brothers from Delta State.”
But in a swift reaction, the Special Adviser to the CBN governor on the Mint, Prof. Thomas Odozi dismissed the allegations, saying due process was followed in both the loan and procurement of the equipment for the Mint.
He regretted that INEC failed to award the printing job to the Mint after every assurance and preparation had been concluded to deliver on fake-proof materials to ensure transparency and a more credible election and expressed concern that the European firm which INEC eventually awarded the job did not possess the capacity to print fake-proof materials.
He spoke further on the failed INEC job and the fraud allegation for the equipment procurement.
His words: “What INEC has put forward as the ballot paper is not secure and it cannot be, there is no way you can differentiate it, that is one. Two, there is nothing about the paper because it is a commercial paper which anybody can buy off the shelf. Anybody can buy it and reproduce.
“Three, there is no feature there for INEC to read and claim that it is their authentic ballot paper. So there is nothing to show on the paper that identifies with the produce issuing authority that is for INEC to claim that it is their document such that if you go to court, they cannot defend it. No feature for them to read that says this is INEC’s ballot paper. So the whole thing is programmed for rigging. It’s a bunch of total mess that they have put on in form of a ballot paper.
“It is faulty. They didn’t allow us to quote; they gave it out at parity, the same price they gave any other person. At the end of the day, they gave us lower, when they were doing request on quotation, we were not even invited. But they gave out the job, because Nigerians were shouting that you cannot take all the notes abroad, that the foreign exchange is not there and yet they are taking millions of dollars abroad just to print paper and there is no added value. There is no added value at all, they are taking jobs away to foreigners not Nigerians; they are not creating jobs in anyway.”
On the procurement allegation, Odozi said: “We have two procurements, not just for the ballot papers, we have to get the machines for other security documents that we print, like cheques. There are some government documents that are called government solutions, it is not necessarily for ballot paper and it’s not correct that it was through a third party, because we got it directly. I can bring evidence to show you that. Anything that I have told you I have evidence, the one that I can’t say I don’t have evidence because it is from the inside, because I wasn’t involved, but I have the documents in total, the award letter, our response letter, we can give it to you, there is no problem? The machines were not bought necessarily for the printing of ballot papers, it is an ongoing renewal process for the mint, and government too has a policy of buying cars after four years they are replaced. So it is a normal procedure for the work to be done.
“Usually Mint buys materials in anticipation of what jobs they will have, because some of these things are customised materials, they are not on the shelves, so usually they buy it down quarterly in trying to get these jobs. But we bought a lot of materials because nobody can produce for you without you buying, they don’t put it on the shelf for you to buy, you have to order to buy them. The ink we use in printing is a specialised ink, they don’t sell it in the market, and these are security ink we don’t get in the open market.
Justifying the process of awarding the contracts, Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu assured that with the careful measures which the commission had taken in the award of the contracts, it would be very difficult to rig the 2015 elections, adding that all the ballot papers and result sheets had been customised for a particular polling units as it would be difficult for them to be used in a different polling unit except where they were designated for.
Idowu also stated that part of the commission’s decision to award the contract for the printing of ballot papers the way it did was to ensure that the papers were not duplicated by politicians, noting that the voter’s cards that would be used for the elections were also customised with specific INEC code, noting that with the introduction of card readers, it was only the rightful owners of the cards that would be identified by the card readers to vote
“Honestly, I am aware of what you are talking about. The commission did the award of these contracts in the best interest of the country. It was done with special reference to maximise the policy of internalisation of resources.”
“Part of the reasons we are printing the way we are doing is that the ballot papers cannot be duplicated, the security features are there. We are also going to use the card readers and people have already been trained on that. INEC’s materials cannot be duplicated.
Politicians are free to print their cards but our card readers will reject all fake voters’ cards, it is only INEC cards with codes that would be accepted by the card readers and the codes are only known to INEC and its producers. The card readers will confirm the cards before any voter will be allowed to cast his vote. So with this the era of people voting by proxy is gone. The same thing goes with the ballot papers, because they are printed with security designs, which differ from one state to another. So with the customised ballot papers, it would be very impossible to move ballot papers that are meant to a particular state to another state.
“Also result sheet are also customised for each polling unit and cannot be used outside a particular polling that it is meant for. They are all on currency grade and customised to those polling units. These are some of the security measures that informed the commission’s decision to award the contract for the ballot papers the way it did and all these cost huge amount on the commission. I can assure you that indigenous firms are handling a large proportion of the ballot papers.
“We should be talking of things that will for now lead to delivering the elections rather than going to visit matters that are routine procedures. The focus of the commission now is on delivering the elections, how do we get the people to pick their Permanent Voters Cards that would empower them to vote in the elections. We are also focusing on how to mobilise our officers and materials for the purpose of delivering a free and fair election.” Idowu stated.
Last August 28 at the launch of the new Electronic Identity Card in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan gave the Mint Board, which management he also changed that day with the appointment of the current managing director, a matching order to upgrade its infrastructure to enable it handle most of government’s printing jobs, including the election materials which were printed outside Nigeria at a great cost.