Despite claims by New Generation Communi-cation Consortium that it had a technical partnership with China Unicom in its bid for Nigerian Telecommu-nication Limited (Nitel), the Chinese firm has again denied having any such arrangement.
But the Technical Commit-tee of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), while confirming New Generation as the Preferred Bidder for Nitel yesterday, said China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd was not part of the consortium.

Rather, the committee said, it was Unicom Europe that was a member of the Consortium, which also had GiCell Wireless of Nigeria and Minerva Group of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

But China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd, the parent company of Unicom Europe, in an advert published in Nigerian newspapers yesterday, maintained that it was not part of the deal.

In the advert signed by Company Secretary, Chu Ka Yee, the Board of Directors of the company restated that it had not commenced any negotiations with any relevant parties involved in the proposed privatisation of Nitel.

The statement contradicts claims by both Usman Gumi, Managing Director of GiCell, the Nigerian member of New Generation Telecoms, and the Director-General of the BPE, Dr. Christopher Anyanwu, on the bid.

While it acknowledged that its subsidiary, Unicom Europe, had indicated that, subject to certain conditions being fulfilled, it would be interested in exploring the possibility of equity investment in Nitel, the parent company said: “As at the date of this announcement, Unicom Europe has not commenced any negotiations with the relevant parties with respect to any substantive and legally binding agreements.

“The company has not participated in any direct discussions or negotiations with any relevant parties involved in the proposed negotiations. China United Network Communications Group Company Limited, the company’s controlling shareholder, has also informed the company that it has not participated in any direct discussions or negotiations with any relevant parties involved in the Proposed Privatisation either.”

In apparent reference to the claims by New Generation and BPE on Unicom Europe, the Unicom Board said: “The company is very concerned about various recent media reports in which the company was reported to have participated in the Proposed Privatisation, and advises investors not to rely on any information concerning the company or any of its subsidiaries in relation to the Proposed Privatisation other than information provided in the company’s announcements. The company has not authorized and the Company is not aware of anyone having authorized any person to release any information regarding the Company’s or any of its subsidiaries’ participation in the Proposed Privatisation.”

The Board’s statement came amid concerns of stakeholders that the bid process, unlike previous ones, was shrouded in secrecy.

Telecom Corp of New Zealand earlier said to be technical partner of Brymedia West Africa Ltd, second reserve bidder, also denied being part of the government auction to buy Nitel.

Despite this controversy, the Technical Committee of the NCP said results of the financial bid opening hold, and has recommended that the preferred bidder should be given issued a confirmation letter.

Briefing newsmen yesterday Acting Chairman, Technical Committee of NCP, Prof. Taiwo Osipitan, said the committee had re-checked its record and realised that not only was due process fully followed in the bid process, the transaction was “sufficiently transparent”.

Osipitan disclosed that this was confirmed following a meeting of the Technical Committee where it was also decided that a confirmation letter be given to New Generation.

“You would recall that the Technical Committee on NCP conducted the financial bids opening on February 16, 2010, during the exercise we were very transparent, which was attested to by National Assembly members, media and the winners/losers of the bids.

“But shortly after the announcement of the preferred and reserved bidder, the press and the media was fed with information concerning whether a particular technical was ever a member of the consortium that emerged as the preferred bidder. Statements were made in the press on this issue credited to the technical partner of the preferred bidder, which put us on alert that necessitated the NCP going back to recheck its records to see whether there was anything amiss along the line.

“TC met yesterday (Wednesday) where we exhaustively examined the documents and the processes which led to the emergence of the preferred bidder and the reserve bidder. The result of our exercise is that due process was fully complied with, and there was sufficient transparency in the whole transaction.

“Against the background of our meeting, and our checks, we met yesterday and re-evaluated the whole exercise and we came to the irresistible conclusion that the opening of the financial bid was done with transparency and backed up by integrity, which remains unaffected and untainted. The transactions were done in accordance with the best practices and standards obtainable in the international community.

“In the light of this, we have resolved to recommend to the NCP that the result of the bid be accepted, while a directive should be given for the preferred bidder to be issued with the confirmation letter in the hope that the preferred bidder would pay the required sum within the stipulated time, and take over so that NITEL can roll out for Nigerians to have fixed lines in our offices and homes,” he said.

Osipitan explained, following media reports that the technical partner said it was not part of the financial bid for NITEL, the Technical Committee, received correspondences from China Unicom, the parent company of Unicom Europe, which is the technical partner to the bidder.

Pointing out that Unicom Europe is a subsidiary of China Unicom, Osipitan said it is also a separate distinct entity from China Unicom and has a life of its own.

“The disclaimer was credited to China Unicom, which is not part of the consortium of the preferred bidder,” he said.
He also said: “We have also received a letter from China Unicom confirming that they have since confirmed that Unicom Europe indeed had a working relationship with the preferred bidder. We are also in possession of a letter signed by Unicom Europe indicating their interest to partner with the preferred bidder.

“I believe that there must have been a communication gap between Unicom Europe and Unicom China . In other words, Unicom Europe did not allow Unicom China to know what they are doing, understandably so, because Unicom Europe stands on its own as an entity separate and distinct from the parent company, China Unicom.

“So, that clears any lingering doubt as to whether a technical partner of the preferred bidder actually agreed to participate.”

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