By Ashie Usor
Worried by the state’s huge debt burden and the attendant deductions from its federal allocations, Cross River governor, Prof Ben Ayade, has inaugurated a taskforce to review state loans.
Inaugurating the 11-man taskforce at the state executive chamber, Governor’s Office Calabar, Ayade cautioned that the exercise was not to witch hunt nor carry out investigation on how the loans were used in the state.
According to him, “the essence of the taskforce is to deliver on the mandate of ascertaining the actual monies that we are indebted to people, corporations and individuals with the ultimate intent to secure a presidential intervention, either through a stimulus package from the stabilization account or by the discretion of his office or by the appropriation law.”
Continuing, the governor said: “I have implicit trust in the administrations of former Governors Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. They have brought prosperity to the state, brought an opportunity of hope and I am just here to drive from where they stopped to where our state will be completely decoupled from federal government allocation.”
Giving charge to the taskforce, Ayade said: “It is your duty to look at gratuities and total outstanding debt in the gratuity portfolio, aggregate all our loans portfolio projects, loans taken, balance paid, balance at hand and outstanding for every single project from 1999 to date.”
Expatiating further on the mandate of the taskforce, the governor said: “You have a duty to advise on how we can source funding, how you can mobilise your international contacts for the benefit of the state to enable us meet up our capital intensive projects.”
While urging the team to pursue with all legal means the issues surrounding the state aircraft with Aero Contractors, a company taken over by Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Ayade disclosed that “the said aircraft was purchased by Governor Imoke who passed it on to Aero Contractors to altar it from a private jet configuration to a commercial aircraft to find traffic that can move people in and from Calabar and to Bebi airstrip. Aero Contractors was paid 100 percent for the job to fix the aircraft to a perfect state.”
The governor regretted that “today, we can’t get the cash or the aircraft. So you have a duty to see how through legal means, they can be brought to book.”
Another responsibility of the taskforce is to recommend how to bring life to Tinapa, Calabar monorail, Obudu Ranch and the cable cars while increasing their patronage.
Ayade who took time to explain the Tinapa situation and the involvement of AMCON disclosed that, “AMCON gave us (Cross River) about N8b in negotiation with Union Bank to take off the commercial loan that Cross River had at that time which was N13 billion, but indeed the actual amount borrowed by Cross River government was N8 billion. So, AMCON decided to pay off Union Bank and negotiated out the interest component, so from N8b it has risen to N13b, but AMCON was able to strike a deal with Union Bank, along the line that instead of you to keep a bad loan in your books, why can’t we just pay the actual money which Cross River borrowed.
“Union Bank agreed and AMCON paid N8b and that is how today AMCON came to lay claim to Tinapa. As it is, we can’t make any progress on Tinapa without any clearance from AMCON. That same loan, today, from their own figures, from the N8b they gave, it has grown to over N30 billion. As such it now lays claim to the ownership of Tinapa. Anything you want to do on Tinapa, AMCON must sit with you to do or give clearance.”
Responding, Chairman of the task Force, Barr Chris Agara said although the task before his team was daunting and enormous, they will do their best for the good of the state.
The taskforce which has Higgins Peters as vice chairman, Arch. Bassey Eyo Ndem as secretary also has Victor Edet, Dr. Francis Ntamu, Godwin Akeke, Betta Edu, Abiola Imani, Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr, Eno Jonah Williams and Eric Williams Akpo as members.