by Agency Reporter
The Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh, has responded to allegations that she incurred huge bills during her eight-month stay at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
She also explained the controversial secondment of two officials of Access Bank Plc to work in her office.
Oteh became the DG of SEC on January 7, 2010.
The issues came to the fore during last week’s public hearing organised by the the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Markets and Other Institutions.
In a statement issued by her spokesperson, Mr. Obi Adindu, and posted on the commission’s website, Oteh said she never incurred an alleged N850,000 feeding bill on a single day during her stay at the hotel.
She stated that the highest feeding bill generated on a single day during her stay was N83,000.
She said this bill was in respect of an official dinner hosted by the commission on March 24, 2010 for a group of international capital market experts who were visiting Nigeria to provide technical assistance to SEC.
Oteh did not, however, address the allegation that she incurred a bill of N30 million during her eight-month stay at the hotel.
The statement explained that she stayed at the hotel for an unstated period of time and “voluntarily left the hotel before an official residence could be provided, unhappy with the lack of privacy at a hotel accommodation and for security reasons.”
The statement said her stay at the hotel was “in line with the terms and conditions of her employment verbally communicated to her on January 7, 2010 and confirmed in writing on January 11, 2010.”
It said that prior to her stay at the hotel, Oteh had no home in Abuja.
It noted, “In accordance with its policy of providing official residential accommodation for its DG, the SEC began on January 7, 2010 to search for official residence for Ms Oteh.
“This policy on official accommodation was communicated to Ms Oteh in writing upon assumption of duty.
“The transaction referred to at the public hearing was in February 2011, in respect of rental property in Maitama, Abuja at N25 million per annum, actually lower than the going rate of similar property in the area. The transaction collapsed when the property owner required the SEC to pay as much as four years rent in advance.
“The issue of high rents has been a source of concern and been the subject of a bill debated on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“All the negotiations for an official accommodation failed for reasons relating to high cost, availability, and frequently changing terms.
“These transactions never materialized; the SEC NEVER leased any property for Ms Oteh.
“The SEC was not successful in finding accommodation for the DG. In line with its policy, the Commission offered rental allowance to Ms Oteh in lieu of official accommodation.”
It also denied that SEC procured four cars for Oteh at N42 million, saying she had been using pool cars belonging to the commission for official duties.
“Since the DG’s arrival, only two pool cars have been purchased by the SEC and assigned to the DG. The two pool cars were purchased to replace two old cars that were subject to frequent breakdowns.
The purchase of these cars followed due process and the provisions of the public procurement laws.”
She also defended herself against allegations that she compromised her position by seconding two members of staff of Access bank Plc to her office.
“No. Laid down rules, procedures and processes have been strictly complied with by the SEC since January 2010 (including in the processing of any transaction involving Access Bank). The seconded Access Bank staff were: a project adviser and a communications assistant, and these two areas are not at the core of the SEC’s regulatory function,” the statement explained.
It added, “Prior to Ms Oteh’s assumption of duty, two independent studies commissioned by the SEC’s Board indicated that there were human capacity gaps at the Commission.
“One of the initiatives she took to quickly address the capacity issues was to reach out to development agencies, sister regulators and the private sector for assistance.
“This way, the SEC received technical assistance from a multilateral development bank, a sister regulator and the private sector to revamp its sub-optimal ICT infrastructure, to complement the in-house ICT staff.
“Equally, the IFC/ESMID provided a Resident Bond Adviser, for 18 months, to help develop the fixed income market.
“In addition, the SEC requested and received pro bono secondment of two employees of Access Bank, one a project adviser (on facilities management), the other on brand communication support (communication assistant).
“These Access Bank employees have no connection with the core regulatory functions of the Commission in any manner as would create a conflict of interest.
“In fact, Access Bank has disclosed the details of the secondment in its 2010 annual report. The fact that the SEC has bank accounts and investments with a number of banks has not undermined our capacity to regulate or approve transactions relating to them.
“The Access Bank secondment in 2010 happened because recruiting full-time staff at the SEC, as in many government agencies, takes a long time. For instance, the SEC’s recent recruitment of 52 Young Professionals lasted one full year. Note also that Access Bank is primarily regulated by the CBN.
“The transaction involving Access Bank that has required the SEC’s approval was that bank’s recent acquisition of Intercontinental Bank.
Most significant securities transactions involving a bank, such as a merger or acquisition, involve shareholders, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance, various departments at the SEC and the Federal High Court.
For a merger, an acquisition or takeover, there are laid down procedures for the SEC’s approval.
“The DG’s office receives all applications to the SEC, and in the case of a merger or acquisition, forwards it to the Executive Commissioner Operations (ECOP). The ECOP in turn forwards the application to the Director of the Securities and Investments Services (SIS) Division who then forwards the application to the Head, Mergers & Takeover department, the Head, Legal Division of SIS. The Director of SIS receives the analysis of the transaction from M&T and the legal opinion of the Legal Division, both of SIS. The Director SIS then makes a recommendation to the Executive Commissioner, Operations who in turn reviews and either endorses or disapproves the transaction and submits to the DG for final approval. The DG’s decision is based on the recommendations made and is communicated to the parties through the ECOP and Director SIS.
“The Access Bank transaction was recommended for approval by all the departments and officers of the SEC who reviewed it.
“The other stakeholders including the shareholders, the CBN, the Ministry of Finance and the Federal High Court also approved and endorsed the transaction.
On a review of the SEC’s records, we find that secondment is not a new practice and the public sector.
“Indeed as far back as 1988, the DG SEC as a member of the Technical Committee on Privatization endorsed the involvement and appointment of private sector officials in the privatization process.”
The statement said Oteh was willing to cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation of its activities, processes and actions.
It also said the commission had refrained from responding to attacks in the media by ‘vested interests’ on the reputation of the DG and SEC.
It stated, “Since Ms. Oteh assumed office as SEC DG on 7th January, 2010 she has led a reform programme to restore market integrity and revive investors’ confidence.
“These reforms included charging over 260 individuals and entities before the Investment and Securities for market abuses that led to the downturn, and seeking orders of disgorgement and restitution of investors.
“Based on evidence of financial mismanagement and corporate governance lapses, the SEC in 2010 also replaced the leadership of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
“As a result, equity market capitalization now stands at N6.6 trillion.
“There are also new products, new listing requirements, greater capacity among operators and regulators and a drastic reduction in market infraction among others.”
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