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Bank Bailout: How Was The Money Spent?

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Although, hundreds of well-trained eyes are watching over the $700 billion that Congress last year decided to spend bailing out the nation’s financial sector, it’s still difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about where the money went.
Despite a new oversight panel, a new special inspector-general, the existing Government Accountability Office and eight other inspectors general, those charged with minding the store say they don’t have all the weapons they need. Ten months into the Troubled Asset Relief Programme, some members of Congress say that some oversight of bailout dollars has been so lacking that it’s essentially worthless.
“TARP has become a programme in which taxpayers are not being told what most of the TARP recipients are doing with their money, have still not been told how much their substantial investments are worth, and will not be told the full details of how their money is being invested,” a special inspector-general over the programme reported last month. The “very credibility” of the programme is at stake, it said.
Access and openness have improved in recent months, watchdogs say, but the programme still has a way to go before it’s truly transparent.
For its part, the Treasury Department said it’s fully committed to transparency, and that it’s taken unprecedented steps to report the status of TARP to the public. It regularly posts information on which banks have received money, as well as details about each of those transactions. Further, Treasury said, it doesn’t agree with all of its watchdogs’ recommendations, which it said could hamper the programme’s effectiveness.
TARP was passed in the midst of last fall’s financial meltdown as a way to keep American banks from falling deeper into the abyss.
The programme was controversial from the start. Its supporters say it’s helped spark bank lending in the country, but critics say it’s unfairly rewarded the big banks and Wall Street firms that pushed the economy to the brink.
The programme also has undergone a major transformation. When the Bush administration first went to Congress for the money, TARP’s main purpose was to buy up hundreds of billions of dollars in bad mortgages and so-called mortgage-backed securities that were bought and sold on Wall Street.
Today, TARP consists of 12 programmes that sent those hundreds of billions of dollars to big banks, but it’s also bailed out auto companies, auto suppliers, individuals delinquent on their mortgages, small businesses and American International Group, the big insurance company.
The watchdogs now must oversee the maze that TARP has become.
Just because a lot of people are watching, however, doesn’t mean they get everything they want to see.
One of the most prominent watchdogs is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who chairs a TARP oversight panel created by Congress.
Her panel has released 10 major reports that examine TARP’s plans and policies, finding that much of the work by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve has been opaque, with unclear or contradictory goals.
One report took Treasury to task for vastly undervaluing more than $250 billion in transactions with the country’s major banks, and another suggested several ways to revamp federal regulation over the financial sector. Other reports have criticised the Treasury for its initial defensiveness in opening its books.
Despite its mandate, however, the panel doesn’t have subpoena power. That means it can ask, but can’t compel, officials from Treasury, the Federal Reserve or the nation’s banks to testify.
Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary under former President George W. Bush, repeatedly stiff-armed the panel. Timothy Geithner, the current secretary, has been more open, but so far has testified just once before Warren’s group. Geithner is scheduled to appear again in September, and has agreed to do so quarterly, and two other senior Treasury officials also have appeared.
The relative lack of testimony from top officials, however, is one reason why critics of Warren’s panel think it hasn’t delivered on its promise.
In June, in an otherwise mundane congressional hearing, Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas surprised Warren with an aggressive critique of the panel, saying it’s failed to help taxpayers understand what Treasury is doing with the billions at its disposal.
“There’s been very little value that the panel has brought to this issue or even insight on how these bailout dollars have been used,” he said. “I frankly believe at this point, given the reports that we’ve seen again with little value, I think the panel needs to be abolished.”
Warren defended the panel’s work, saying the lack of subpoena power means we “only have the capacity to invite” witnesses.
“So you asked Secretary Paulson in the first month of existence?” Brady asked.
“I believe we asked him repeatedly,” Warren said. “We asked him in our first month, in our second month, in our third month.”
Warren said she took the criticism seriously, dropping by Brady’s congressional office as soon as the hearing adjourned. The two had never met before, she said, and “I was really surprised,” by his comments.
“He said he felt frustrated,” she said. “He wanted us to be even blunter” in the panel’s reports.
Brady amplified his comments in an interview last month, saying that some of the panel’s work seem like a “PR ploy” and that “the moment has passed” for Warren’s group to play the role Congress envisioned.
His feelings have been partially echoed by two other members of the panel, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and former Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, both Republicans appointed by congressional GOP leaders (the other three members were appointed by Democrats).
Both have accused the panel of mission creep of straying from the central goal of determining exactly how, and how well, Treasury is doing its job.
Hensarling said that “taxpayers have not received answers as to whether the TARP programme works, how decisions are being made or what the banks are doing with the taxpayers’ money.” While he praises the “very smart people on the panel,” he said too many questions have been left unexplored.
He acknowledges that the lack of subpoena power makes things tough. “But even if we had it, I’m not sure we would have used it,” said Hensarling, who’s pushing to abolish TARP.
The other primary watchdog is Neil Barofsky, a special inspector-general named in November by Bush specifically to track TARP funds. His office does have subpoena power, and a growing staff that’s expected ultimately to have 160 people pursuing audits and criminal investigations.
It’s also made a series of recommendations to the Treasury, asking that it do more to reveal how TARP money is being spent. Treasury has adopted some of its recommendations, but rejected others including one of the most important: Giving taxpayers precise details on how TARP funds have been used by banks.
The recommendation involves one of the most visible aspects of TARP: investing $218 billion in 650 banks, helping them to strengthen their balance sheets and boost lending to American businesses and homeowners.
Barofsky’s office has long advocated that the Treasury require banks to detail how the TARP money they’ve received has been used. The department has refused, saying that once an investment is made in a big bank, it’s not possible to track how it’s used.
Barofsky’s office rejected that assertion, and did its own survey of 360 institutions, finding that most could say how they’d used the money.
“Treasury’s reasons for refusing to adopt this recommendation have been squarely refuted by the inspector general,” his office reported to Congress.

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CBN Assures On Depositors’ Fund Safety 

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Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has reassured the banking public of the safety of their deposits and the banking system’s resilience.
CBN’s Acting Director of  Corporate Communications Department, Mrs Hakama Sidi-Ali, gave the assurance in a statement on  Monday in Abuja.
The statement, a response to concerns raised about the stability of some Nigerian banks in the wake of Heritage Bank Plc’s license revocation, faulted claims that the CBN was considering revoking the operating licences of Fidelity, Polaris, Wema, and Unity Banks.
It also clarified that a circular issued by the Bank on January 10, 2024, notifying the public about the dissolution of the Boards of Union, Keystone, and Polaris Banks, was currently being circulated as though it was freshly issued.
According to the Director, Heritage Bank’s case was isolated.
“Allegations of further revocation of licences prior to the completion of CBN’s recapitalisation exercise are mere fabrications aimed at creating panic within the system”, Sidi-Ali said.
She stated that bank customers, particularly those of Heritage Bank, need not worry about the safety of their deposits, adding that the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) had commenced payment to the bank’s insured depositors.
The spokesperson urged members of the public to continue their regular banking activities without fear, dismissing any false reports regarding the health of specific Deposit Money Banks.
“The CBN, with its robust regulatory framework, is proactively ensuring the stability of Nigeria’s financial system, thereby guaranteeing the safety of depositors’ funds in all Nigerian financial institutions”, she said.
Sidi-Ali reiterated the assurances of the CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso, that the recapitalisation of banks in Nigeria was intended to bolster the banking system and safeguard the sector against risks.

She urged all stakeholders to cooperate in ensuring the success of the process, which she said would be for the overall growth of the Nigerian economy.

“Without prejudice to the ongoing recapitalisation process, I want to restate that the Nigerian banking industry remains resilient. Key financial soundness indicators remain within current regulatory thresholds.

“Customers are, therefore, encouraged to proceed with their transactions as usual, as the CBN is committed to ensuring the safety of the banking system”, she said

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NERC Approves New Tariff Hike For Port Harcourt DisCo

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In spire of calls that the recently hiked “Band A” tariff be reversed, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has approved a new tariff hike for the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (DisCo).
NERC permitted the PHED to raise tariffs for Band A customers categorised as Maximum Demand 2 Special (A – MD2 Special).
MD customers are customers that have a load of 45kVA and above. They also operate and maintain their dedicated transformers.
From N206 per kilowatt-hour, this category of customers within the Port Harcourt franchise will now pay N225/KWh.
In a regulatory instrument tagged June 2024 Supplementary Order to the Multi-Year Tariff Order – 2024 (“June 2024 Supplementary Order”) for Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Plc, the NERC said the tariff approval was under the Tariff Review Application by PHED.
“Further to Section 23 of the MYTO-2024, this Supplementary Order seeks to reflect the changes in the pass-through indices outside the control of licensees including inflation rates, naira/dollar exchange rate, available generation capacity and gas price for the determination of Cost-Reflective Tariffs”, NERC stated.
The electricity regilator emphasised the basis for the review, saying the Naira to the US Dollar exchange rate of N1,469.06 per dollar has been adopted for June to December 2024. It said this has been determined by adding a 1 per cent transaction cost to the average foreign exchange rate of N1,454.52 during the period May 1 to 24, 2024 as obtained from the website of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
It also added that the Nigerian inflation rate of 33.69 per cent for April 2024 as published by the National Bureau of Statistics was applied to revise the Nigerian inflation rate projection for 2024.
“Under Section 116 of the Electricity Act and extant regulations, the commission has considered and approved for PHED, the tariffs (in Table 2) effective 1st June 2024. The approved tariffs shall remain in force subject to monthly adjustments of pass-through indices including inflation rates, naira/dollar exchange rates and gas-to-power prices.
“In line with the policy direction of the Federal Government of Nigeria on electricity subsidy, the allowed tariffs for Bands B – E customer categories shall remain frozen at the rates payable since December 2022 subject to further policy direction by the government.
“With this policy, the estimated subsidy benefit for customers under the PHED franchise in 2024 is approximately N11.49bn monthly”, the NERC stated.
In April, the NERC announced a new tariff for customers in Band A, from N68/KWh to N225/KWh.
It later reduced the tariff to N206.80/KWh based on the rebound of the naira.
Meanwhile, organised labour and manufacturers have kicked against the Band A tariff.

Nkpemenyie Mcdominic, Lagos

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AMJON Partners School To Train Journalists On Maritime Operations 

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The Association of Maritime journalists of Nigeria (AMJON) has gone into a mutually beneficial collaboration with School of Eloquence to strengthen the capacity and reporting skills of Maritime journalists.
This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Chairman, AMJON Organising Committee, Mr. Segun Oladipupo and made available to our correspondent in Lagos on Monday.
According to the statement, “This year’s edition, tagged “Special Edition”, is a collaborative effort between the foremost Public Speaking training School,  School of Eloquence and AMJON”.
Oladipupo said the training is slated to hold on Friday at the School of Eloquence premises at Osborne Road, Ikoyi.
“Experts from the Nigeria Customs Service, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and School of Eloquence have been lined up to train journalists on the rudiments of their own operations”, according to the statement.
Speaking, the President of AMJON, Paul Ogbuokiri, said journalism required constant training to be in tune with evolving trends in the industry.
According to him, journalism has taken a leap from what it used to be and journalists need to equip themselves with modern journalism tools that will help them to catch up with the trends.
“We need constant training and restraining to be relevant in this age of journalism. If we fail to update ourselves, we will soon fizzle out,
“This partnership with the School of Eloquence is a right step in the right direction. It will no doubt, energise our knowledge of reportage”, he stated.
On his part, the Chairman, Organising Committee, Segun Oladipupo, said the event would afford members the opportunity to take their reporting to enviable height
He, therefore, enjoined participants to seize the opportunity to learn new trends in journalism and also learn the business side of the job.
He thanked the School of Eloquence for providing a platform for Nigerian journalists to take a flight in their daily assignment.

Nkpemenyie Mcdominic, Lagos

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