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Bank CEOs: Sorry For Risky Behaviour, Bad Decisions

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Wall Street executives said Wednesday they underestimated the severity of the 2008 financial crisis and apologised  for risky behaviour and poor decisions. They also defended their bonus and compensation practices to a skeptical commission investigating what caused the collapse.

Americans are furious and “have a right to be” about the hefty bonuses banks paid out after getting billions of dollars in federal help, the commission’s chairman told chief executives of four major banks, all survivors of the deepest and longest recession since the Depression.

As the hearings opened before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, chairman Phil Angelides pledged “a full and fair inquiry into what brought our financial system to its knees.”

The panel began its yearlong inquiry amid rising public fury over bailouts and bankers’ pay.

“We understand the anger felt by many citizens,” said Brian Moynihan, chief executive and president of Bank of America. “We are grateful for the taxpayer assistance we have received.”

“Over the course of the crisis, we as an industry caused a lot of damage,” Moynihan said.

With Bank of America having repaid its bailout money, he said “the vast majority of our employees played no role in the economic crisis” and do not deserve to be penalised with lower compensation. Moynihan said compensation levels will be higher next year than they were in 2008  but not at levels reached before the financial meltdown.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said most of his employees took “significant cuts in compensation” in 2008. He said his company would continue to pay people in a “responsible and disciplined manner” to attract and retain top talent.

Still, Dimon said, “We did make mistakes and there were things we could have done better.”

John Mack, chairman of Morgan Stanley, said the crisis was “a powerful wake-up call for this firm.” He said he didn’t take a bonus in 2009 and that his bank has overhauled its compensation practices to discourage “excessive risk-taking.”

The other executives also said their companies had tightened bonus policies, including provisions to “claw back” some of the money when performance faltered.

Angelides, a former Democratic state treasurer of California, questioned Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein about packaging soured assets into bond-like securities and selling them to investors, even as Goldman Sachs was “shorting” the same securities, or making inside bets they would fail. These included risky mortgages that were extended to borrowers with poor credit records and helped cause the home-loan bust.

“It sounds like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy” on the driver, Angelides said in an animated exchange with the Goldman Sachs executive.

Responded Blankfein: “I do think the behavior is improper. We regret the consequence that people have lost money in it.”

Like the other witnesses, Blankfein acknowledged lapses in judgment in some practices leading up to the crisis.

“Whatever we did, it didn’t work out well,” he said. “We were going to bed every night with more risk than any responsible manager would want to have.”

The four bankers represent institutions that collectively received more than $90 billion in direct government assistance from the $700 billion federal bank bailout and availed themselves of billions from the Federal Reserve. Goldman Sachs received an additional $12.9 billion in bailout money that had gone to AIG.

Angelides suggested that blame for the crisis was widespread among the nation’s largest financial institutions. “Maybe this is like `Murder on the Orient Express’ — Everybody did it,” he said, referring to the Agatha Christie murder mystery. The four bankers appeared before the panel for just over three hours before it turned to other witnesses.

At the White House, presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama on Thursday will outline his plan to make sure taxpayers are able to recoup the money they are owed in the bailouts. The president is expected to announce a new fee on the country’s biggest financial firms to recover up to $120 billion.

Of the bankers’ testimony, Gibbs said, “It would seem to me that apology would be the least of what anybody could expect.” He said Wall Street officials need to show common sense.

The witnesses said they supported tighter oversight, but warned against going too far. Congress is considering limiting the size of financial companies or breaking up companies whose failure could collapse the whole financial system.

“The solution is not to cap the size of financial firms. … We need a regulatory system that provides for even the biggest banks to be allowed to fail, but in a way that does not put taxpayers or the broader economy at risk,” Dimon said.

The commission’s vice chairman, former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the inquiry would try “to get to the bottom of what happened and explain it in a way that the American people can understand.”

Thomas, a former chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said one important question is, “If you knew then what you do now, what would you have done differently?”

Dimon said a crucial blunder was “how we just missed that housing prices don’t go up forever.” Added Mack: “We did eat our cooking and we choked on it.”

The bipartisan, 10-member commission was handed the job of writing the official narrative of what went wrong before the financial system nearly collapsed in the fall of 2008.

The commission is modeled on the panel that examined the causes of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the prototype could be the Pecora Commission, the Senate committee that investigated Wall Street abuses in 1933-34. It was named after Ferdinand Pecora, the committee’s chief lawyer.

Congress has instructed the current commission to explore 22 issues, from the effect of monetary policy on terms of credit to bank compensation structures.

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Nembe Oil Spill From Aiteo Facility Worst I’ve Seen – Diri

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The Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on Wednesday returned from visiting the oil spill site in Nembe Local Government Area of the state, describing it as the worst he had seen in his lifetime.
The OML 29 Well 1 platform, which is operated by Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil firm, Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited, has been spilling crude unabated into the Santa Barbara River for about one month.
An estimated two million barrels of crude has reportedly been spilled into the river, polluting the flora and fauna of the area, the governor’s spokesperson Dan Alabrah, said.
The Minister of State of Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, had said the scene of the spill was like a war zone.
Overwhelmed by the spill, Aiteo hired Halliburton’s Boots and Coots to “kill the well” by injecting cement into it. It bought the well from the Royal Dutch Shell in 2015.
As at Wednesday, the Bayelsa government said the spill that began November 5 was still ongoing.
Governor Diri said the continuous spillage has further endangered the lives of people of Nembe, Bayelsa and indeed the Niger Delta.
In a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Alabrah, the governor, who expressed shock over the quantity of crude that has been spilled into the environment, called on the Federal Government and operators of the oil field to immediately take action to stop it.
According to him, the prolonged oil spill into the water and air had an immediate and long term effect on the health of the inhabitants.
While assuring the people that appropriate measures would be taken to seek redress, he noted that the quest by oil firms to make money would not be at the expense of the lives of the people.
Describing fishing as the source of livelihood of the people of the area, Mr Diri noted that just as there are grazing routes, Bayelsa State has fishing routes and must be protected.
His words: “Today happens to be a very dark day for me. What we have seen, I believe, is worse than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. In all my life, I have not seen such magnitude of oil spillage.
“Our people are endangered. Our people’s source of livelihood is endangered. I empathise and sympathise with the people of Nembe on behalf of the government and people of Bayelsa State.
The Bayelsa governor also decried the exclusion of indigenes of host communities in the running of the oil industry, saying that if indigenes were part of the operations of the oil field, they would have looked for ways to address the problem.
To ameliorate the suffering of the people, the governor directed the State Emergency Management Agency and Ministry of Health to immediately provide relief materials and healthcare services to the people.
Earlier, the chairman of Nembe Local Government Area, Hon. West Alalibo, and member representing Nembe Constituency 2 in the State House of Assembly, Edward Brigidi, appreciated the governor for embarking on an on-the-spot assessment visit to the site.

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‘Emerging Challenges May Frustrate Dev Of Gas Resources’

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Although the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) is expected to unlock gas potential in Nigeria, especially the current 206 trillion standard cubic feet proven reserves, stakeholders Wednesday said the goals might remain elusive.
Investment to unlock the series of the opportunities outlined by the country according to the stakeholders, may remain a daunting task amidst heavy levies on the sector, domestic gas pricing challenges as well as lack of necessary technology and skills set.
Coming as the price of natural gas Wednesday, tumbled further to $4.4 per MMBtu after rising close to $7, the stakeholders at the 10th Practical Nigerian Content Forum stated that without the right environment, Nigeria may miss out of the window of opportunities available through the energy transition phase.
The Senate Chairman, Local Content, Teslim Folarin at the event also insisted that the cross-sectorial local bill in the National Assembly would make existing executive orders on patronage of Nigeria goods and services a law across sectors of the economy, stressing that it won’t however scrap the NOGIC Act.
With the current high price of cooking gas, the inadequacies of gas to power plants, the experts noted that data challenges, legal framework, lack of collaboration, weak research and development, lack of technology, imposition of taxes on the gas value chain lay heavy siege to the country’s aspirations in the gas revolution.
Group Executive Director, Gas and Power at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Abdulkadir Ahmed, insisted that declining funding for fossil fuels would create challenges for existing gas resources in the country, stressing that the sector must devise a means to fund projects and also produce more with cost.
Ahmed was also concerned about the infrastructure that transports and ensures utilisation of gas, adding that a transparent and market-driven pricing remained sacrosanct.
“We can not make progress without a market-driven and transparent gas price. No one will put in money if they have no feasibility of how they will recover their cost. There won’t be any gas to process if we do not invest in upstream activities,” he said.
Managing Director, Shell Nigeria Gas, Ed Ubong stated that there was a need to build local capacity for gas and ensure that the resources are used to spur industrial development.
According to him, there was a need to support indigenous companies to thrive, adding that the gas space remained a key avenue to grow local content.
A Governing Council Member at Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Mina Oforiokuma said with progress being made by countries like Mozambique, Nigeria needs to learn and move fast to address bottlenecks.
Speaking on the expansion of local content across sectors, Executive Secretary of NCDMB, Simbi Wabote noted that the government may consider a local content department across ministries to develop.
Wabote said: “That’s the only way you can get benefit out of the implementation because what people forget is that NCDMB is like a department within the ministry of petroleum resources saddled with the responsibility of driving local content within the oil and gas industry and controlled by the Ministry in the same way.”
Senator Folarin noted that the government remained concerned about the development of indigenous companies, adding that the move would address inefficiencies, in the long run reduce cost of projects and build strong local companies that can compete globally.
He revealed that some of the key sectors that would be primarily targeted are power, ICT, manufacturing, agriculture and others.

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PHCCIMA Boss Lists Core Service Areas

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The 62nd President of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Mines, Industries and Agriculture (PHCCIMA), Sir Mike Elechi said his administration shall have member oriented,  inclusive programmes and opportunities as its hallmark and guiding principles.
Elechi said this during his investiture as the PHCCIMA President in Port Harcourt during the week.
He also listed  consolidation of growth, peace, unity,  increased scope of programme dispensation and internally generated revenue as part of his core mandate to be delivered to the people.
He said that these would be achieved within the confines of PHCCIMA’s constitution and that of the Country.
The President who was  a  permanent secretary before his retirement,  pointed out that the choice of the key areas was as a result of deep reflection and wide consultation with relevant stakeholders in the society.
He said that his administration would reintroduce the monthly PHCCIMA meeting, develope a calendar of member oriented programmes and opportunities as well as trade mission travels and access for the benefit of its members.
On the issue of increased scope of programme dispensation and internally generated revenue, he said that  it would be realised by creating an atmosphere of welcome and corporate opportunity.
“Another way out among others, was engagement of various governments both state and local, with business strategies especially non oil businesses”, he said.
In his address, the Chairman of the occasion,  Chief Ferdinand Anabrabra, urged those that are yet to be registered with PHCCIMA to hurry and do so in order to meet up with the current speed of the organisation.
Anabrabra, anchored his point on the passion that the new President and his team have for the body, which will definitely pay off.
Also speaking, the former President of Nigerian Bar Association ( NBA), Hon Onueze C.J . Okocha,  said that Elechi’s whealt of experience would  enable him  do the expected.
”As a career Civil Servant and a successful businessman cum Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Vintage Farm and Products in ElelIkwerre Local Government of the state, his administration would be successful.
The Tide gathered that the Elechi-led PHCCIMA executive would elapse in the next three years.

By: King Onunwor

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