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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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FG Approves N169.72bn Private Sector Investments In Roads 

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The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved N169.7 billion private sector investments for at least four road infrastructures through the government’s Tax Credit Scheme.
The roads include a 234-kilometre stretch from Bali to Sheti through Gashaka to Gembu in Taraba State, at the sum of N95,232,474,010.72; and a second road, which consists of three roads worth N74,486,577,050.
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, disclosed this to State House correspondents at the end of the FEC’s meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday.
Fashola, who noted that the scheme was initiated in 2019 through Executive Order 7 signed by the President, said the arrangement allowed private sector players to finance public infrastructure instead of paying taxes and then offset it over time using tax credits.
For the 234-kilometre road in Taraba, which would cost N95.23 billion, Fashola said a N20 billion under the NNPC Tax Credit Scheme would be disbursed to begin the project soonest.
According to him, “the two main memoranda (presented to the council) relate to the uptake by the private sector in response to the tax credit programme, which we initiated in 2019, by Mr. President signing of Executive Order 7 to allow private sector finance public infrastructure in lieu of tax and then to offset it over time using tax credits.
“So, the first road that was awarded today on that policy initiative is the Rule Road from Bali to Sheti, through Gashaka to Gembu in Taraba State. A total of 234 kilometres reconstruction of that road in the sum of 95,232,474,010.62.
“The existing road, for those who are familiar with it, has no concrete stone base. It is just laterite on the asphalt so it doesn’t last and it’s breaking up and leading to potholes.
“So we’ve re-awarded this now for reconstruction under the tax credit scheme, there’s a N20 billion provision under the NNPC tax credit scheme that will be used to kickstart this immediately.
“The second road which is also the tax credit scheme, which was approved by the council is actually three roads. The applicant, in this case, is Mainstream Energy Solutions, a major energy player in the country is now seeking to also participate in this policy by investing a total of N74,486,577, 050,” he explained.
Speaking on behalf of his counterparts in the Ministries of Aviation, Power and Agriculture, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, revealed that the council approved N3.49 billion for the purchase of an office building in Abuja for the Ministry of Aviation.
This, he said, would cluster the various agencies under the ministry into a single location.
He also revealed that council awarded a N553.58 million contract for the establishment and deployment of Advanced Report Generation Utility Engine Web-based Reporting Tools in favour of Messrs Sinecou Limited with a delivery date of 12 months.

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JET-A1: Domestic Airlines Predict Increased Flight Ticket To N100,000

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Domestic airlines under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria have said that rising operational costs occasioned by aviation fuel price hikes, foreign exchange shortage, etc. may push the base economy flight ticket to N100,000.
Spokesperson for local airlines/Chairman, United Airlines, Professor Obiora Okonkwo, made the disclosure during an exclusive interview with The Tide’s source on Wednesday in Abuja.
Beyond the lingering aviation price hike crisis, the airline chief said local operators were being compelled to source foreign exchange from the parallel market at high rates due to a lack of adequate supply from the Central Bank of Nigeria through the commercial banks.
Consequently, he said an increase in the base economy flight ticket to at least N100,000 might be inevitable for all domestic airline operators, if the current situation persists.
“Obviously, it is inevitable. I can tell you that all the airline operators, in the last three months, have been losing money, a huge amount of money. There is too much stress on the operational fronts for them to break even.
“Even if the aviation fuel is made available, there must be a review to reflect the minimal operational cost. We are offering patriotic services to the nation and understand the essential part of it. We are part of this economic development process in Nigeria but it is coming at a very huge sacrifice.
“Nothing less than N100,000, between N100,000 and N120,000 base price, even with Jet A1 fuel at N400 – N500. That is what it is”, Okonkwo said.
Noting that meetings with the CBN in this regard are yet to yield any positive result in the provision of adequate forex, he stressed the need for the aviation industry to be seen as an essential service that should have special consideration in financial matters.
He clarified that the operators have no joy in increasing fares, but that it has become necessary for them to avoid shutting down and running out of business.
“In the industry, it is expected that you will gain some here and lose some there, but the biggest challenge indigenous operators are having is that the cost of everything is high.
“You source money from the commercial bank rates. You source money from the black market. No moratorium for your loans and the banks and AMCON are quick to jump on you”, he explained.
Corroborating this view, the Chief Operating Officer, Ibom Air, Mr. George Uriesi, said local airlines had reached a point in their operational cost that ‘something has to give in’.
“Something has to give in. It’s either the prices of fuel should come down, or the prices of airfares go up from where they are.
“So far, the airlines have tried very much to work within the airfares as they are. All sides of the divide are aware that the airlines have done the best that they can do.
“I don’t know what tomorrow holds but at some point, if the airline doesn’t survive, it goes down, to the detriment of everybody – the people who work for the airline, the people who fly on the airline, the country’s economy, everything goes down. So, airlines are just trying to be stable and patriotic. That’s where we are”, Uriesi said.
Uriesi, a former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, said it was difficult to tell how long the local carriers would be able to continue with the high operational cost.

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‘Youths Key To Economic Advancement’

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An economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, has stressed the need to invest in youths to enable them transform Nigeria’s economy.
Noting that youths have the capacity to reverse the dwindling fortunes of the economy, Utomi, who was the keynote speaker at the first International Conference on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business Management organised by the University of Lagos Business School (ULBS), said Nigeria is till being challenged.
“Our country is still challenged. We are the poverty capital of the world. According to a report, in the next 10 years, between us and Congo Democratic Republic,would produce 40 per cent of the world’s poorest people.
“Thus, we should invest massively in our young people to enable them transform the country and the economy. They have the capacity to change this country for good,” he said.
The Professor of Political Economy also underscored the importance of deploying technology in deepen entrepreneurship and growth.
He said through the tech space Africa would make over $14billion with youths, adding that 60 per cent of the cash would be for Nigeria.
Earlier, Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe lauded the leadership of the ULBS for its performance.
He noted that plans were underway to build a mini-refinery for the institution’s Department of Petroleum Engineering.
Pioneer Executive Director, ULBS, Prof. Abraham Osinubi, said the conference was aimed at halting the disconnect between the academia and industry by creating an interactive avenue for new ideas to solve real life problems.
The event also witnessed the launch of the ULBS journal, Lagos Management and Business Review.
Thw Conference had as its theme: “Adapting to business landscape in disruptive times”.

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