Corruption fighting back in Kwara Express - NATIONAL TRUMPET


Thursday, September 8, 2022

Corruption fighting back in Kwara Express

Mgt committed to reforms, will resist blackmail attempts by unpatriotic elements

The management of Harmony Holdings Limited has uncovered the ploy of some corruption-ridden staff of Kwara Express to ride on the exigencies of this political season to accelerate their campaign of calumny and oil their propaganda machinery which hitertho had been on a low key, in a bid to frustrate the ongoing reforms at the company and ultimately return it to the old era of anything goes management.

Owing to its excellent service in the early days, Kwara Express used to be the delight of several travellers. Mismanagement of resources and the recurring decimal of service failure however made things degenerate under the then public service run Kwara State Transport Company, eventually leading to the transfer of the company among many other state-owned companies to Harmony Holdings Limited for effective and profitable management in 2012 under former Governor AbdulFatai Ahmed.

There were hopes and expectations that the fortunes of these companies would immediately witness sustainable transformation going by the lofty paperwork that set up Harmony Holdings Limited as the investment management company of the Kwara State Government. On the contrary however, they appeared to have briefly improved under the previous management of Harmony Holdings, but later nosedived to a more precarious situation throughout the about eight years they reigned. This is sadly in spite of the opportunity they had to acquire 82 brand new vehicles (40 in 2010 and 42 in 2015) through an Infrastructure Bank asset financing scheme with a bank guarantee from one of the commercial banks in the state. The impact of these standard operational assets was not felt due to mismanagement, corruption, unbridled politicisation, workers indiscipline, among others. The real binding constraints responsible for the failures witnessed in the company when it was under the public service were never thoroughly and frontally addressed. 

Hence, the company had the unfortunate trajectory of having brand new vehicles that were generating huge cash flows/revenue from its operating activities in excess of N600m yearly but without any profit made, ploughed back or remitted to the government for all those years. There was also no savings for the raining day. 
In addition to the above sad trajectory, salaries were being owed serially, pensions, taxes and other statutory deductions were made for years without being remitted to the appropriate bodies. Deductions were also made from the salaries of staff to service loans obtained from the cooperatives and they were all misappropriated as well. 

To make the matters worse, all the two cycles of infrastructural asset financing ended up going bad as monthly repayment targets were not met. The Kwara State Government that ordinarily should have reaped from this collosal investment ended up a victim because it had to pay off the balance of the facility obtained amidst a lot of embarrassment. This sort of administrative irresponsibility ran deep in the system and in most cases you found out that the system was dealt such suicidal blow always on the basis of corruption or political exigency just like it was with the property arm of the company HIPDC where an Estate Development Loan (EDL) of the sum of N557m was obtained in 2002 from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to build 250 housing units in Mandate 3 Estate and was eventually mismanaged such that as at today total accruals on that facility is in excess of N1.3b which the current management is contending with squarely. The recurring decimal of such incidences eventually marred the reputation of the company and the state as they got blacklisted for future business relationship and interventions in numerous banks and government development agencies respectively. 

The summary is that after eight years of investing hundreds of millions of naira into Kwara Express by the previous administration, it returned back to a far more precarious situation than they met it and of which the set up of Harmony Holdings was intended to correct. Nothing was responsible for this sad trajectory other than the fact that we had a leadership in the state which sacrificed everything on the altar of politics and its unbridled quest to hold onto power at all cost. The systems decayed further even under the private sector management because the then management lacked the sincerity of purpose and political will to confront the age long principalities that had stampeded the growth of most of the state-owned enterprises that were transferred to Harmony Holdings on the basis of political convenience. This is a classical case of how the previous administration and their lackeys destroyed our systems and placed mines on the road path of the future progress of numerous entities owned by the people of Kwara State.

Fast forward to May 2019 when the new administration of Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq took over the reins of the state's leadership and dissolved the old management of Harmony Holdings and its subsidiaries, the transport company just like many other subsidiaries was already a shadow of itself. Virtually all their vehicles had been grounded with no replacements. The systemic corruption which the previous management was renowned for had already created a system of widespread impunity and recklessness amongst its workforce who were identified to have been the principal source of the company’s misfortune during the days of its operation as a public transport company. It is however instructive to state that the coming of Harmony Holdings at inception was not able to tackle the indiscipline and lack of commitment among the workforce because they were being restricted by the government that established it for political reasons and also due to the pioneer management's immersion in corrupt activities.

The company also had a Union that was infamous for providing safe haven for the most indisciplined staff, while emboldening all acts of defiance to the management, including declaring industrial actions and strikes on very trivial issues. So strong was the Union’s influence that after the exit of the old management of Harmony Holdings, rather than the company being managed by the most senior staff as directed by the government, it connived with some staff to take over the management of the state-owned transport company by appointing its Technical Management Team that went ahead to supervise one of the most nefarious regimes of resource mismanagement, illegality and abuse of trust.

Following the appointment of Mallam Abdullahi Abdulmajeed as GMD/CEO of Harmony Holdings, he commenced a turnaround management of the holding company and all its subsidiaries, including Kwara Express. At Kwara Express specifically, they practically resisted the authority of the holdco, as they were already convenient with running the company as if it belonged to the Union. It took the new management three months of concerted efforts and the political will of the present Kwara State Government to correct the anomaly. New reforms to ensure sanity in the system were introduced but the staff were still aggressively resistant. When they couldn't take the heat of the far-reaching reforms, they started agitating for all their accrued outstanding dues to be paid. These were the same outstanding dues that were owed and never paid for more than 8 years under the previous administration where they made over N60m on a monthly basis. That was what they wanted us to pay within seven days at a time when the company was practically grounded and we were struggling to revive it. Failure to which they further threatened to shutdown the company. This is the same strategy they deployed to whittle down the influence of the previous management. They threatened strike action at will and the natural sequence was that the previous management would be invited to the Government House and cautioned to back off, giving a chance for their impunity and disobedience to authority to deepen.

Their antics however failed with the new government which is headed by a consummate businessman and longstanding market-facing administrator of repute who understands what business management is and how not to mix it up with politics. In a bid to uncover the rot in the system and fix it effectively, His Excellency the Executive Governor of Kwara State, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq approved the request of the new management to set up an independent Business Review and Investigation Committee (BRIC) chaired by the principled Comrade Hamzat AbdulRazaq with members drawn from amongst numerous accomplished Kwarans from various professions, senatorial district and across diverse expertise to conduct a thorough diagnostic review of the company from inception till the moment we took over. Hardly had the committee members settled down to commence their assignment that the same members of staff launched an assault on them. The members were harassed and stampeded from going about their investigations by the Union. However, with the support of the government, the committee was able to deliver its mandate against all odds encountered.

The report of the committee showed amongst other tragic revelations that most of the operational assets of the company were either grounded, scrapped or even abandoned at different mechanic and transit locations as a result of staff negligence and management’s recklessness. It also observed with evidences that the workforce was extremely unruly, highly indisciplined and neckdeep in company wide corrupt practices. The report further confirmed that they lacked respect for their management and they were reputed to have taken delight in the embarrassment and humiliation of virtually every member of the company’s management including the GMD/CEO of their holding company whenever they attempted to bring about any reform in their company. It was the report that also recommended that staff that do not possess the requisite private sector orientation and productive environment mindset be excused for the transport company to flourish. However, on compassionate ground, His Excellency Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq considered and approved the proposal for the workers to be absorbed into the Kwara State Road Traffic Management Agency (KWARTMA), rather than retrenching them. He further gave a directive for a thorough training of the absorved staff to equip them for their new responsibilities. This move has earned commendations and applause from all and sundry because it turned out to benefit both sides. It also marked the beginning of the efficient turnaround of Kwara Express, a foundation that ought to have been laid ten years ago when the Governor AbdulFatai Ahmed led administration commissioned a consultant that produced the Atelier Report containing far-reaching recommendations about how to reposition all the state-owned entities but ended up just implementing the establishment and throwing all other critical success factors contained in the recommendations into the dustbin. 

Following the magnanimous reabsorption of 84 of the staff back into the mainstream civil service and the retention of a few staff mainly those employed by the former management of Harmony Holdings using private sector rules, the new management sought and obtained approval from His Excellency to commence the second leg of its short term reform strategies which included the building of a new modern customer service terminal to provide a platform for a more satisfactory customer service and also an accountable operational framework. This was followed by the overhauling of about 20 vehicles in the existing fleet and the introduction of an automated fleet management solution and digital service and finally the training and retraining of the retained staff and the newly employed ones to deliver on the mandate of the company of becoming the most preferred transport company of Kwarans. Having accomplished the above excellently, we reopened the company which had been shut down for seven months on the 1st of July 2021 and commenced operations shortly after.

Following the commencement of business activities, a new staff code of conduct and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was introduced in line with the ongoing reforms. Hardly had we unveiled the roadmap for the thorough reform of the company that a few elements out of the retained staff who were finding it difficult to cope in such a result oriented and regulated environment started showing signs of resistance to the reforms again. We started getting pushbacks from this same set of staff who are as a matter of fact a tiny minority, but have been hostile to the majority of other staff, especially the new hands we recruited into the company who have been showing uncommon support for our reform agenda inspite of the obstinate preference of those few elements for the old order where anything goes. 

These unruly staff who were hitherto hiding under the membership of the Union to intimidate the company’s management and prevent it from running an efficient company currently have no such cover to operate but have still decided to embark on a series of counter productive actions in the name of representing the retained staff. It is clear that they are still engrossed in the old order where corruption was an all comers affair in the system and the staff could not be regulated by the company’s management. They are also finding it difficult to forgive a new management that makes more profit from the current operation of the company even with less than 20 functional vehicles and has been paying salaries every month as at when due largely due to the introduced reforms to block leakages and implement an effective cost structure. 

As at today, our ongoing reforms has touched on nearly all the pain points of the company from inflation of fuelling cost, to diversion of customers to competitors for a fee, to dubious passenger booking system where booked passengers are under-reported, to outright stealing from the accounts and under-banking of funds, amongst others. The maintenance department which used to be the headquarters of this corruption where cost of parts are always inflated and mechanics are colluded with to obtain payment for new parts and return the old ones removed is also undergoing the most radical transformation. 

From day one, the new GMD/CEO has made it known explicitly in line with the mandate given by the executive governor of the state that Kwara Express must return to its glorious days under our founding fathers. He has therefore introduced the most aggressive and frontal strategies in tackling the trend of corruption and indiscipline among staff members. Under his leadership, we have introduced an automatic fleet management solution and a digitised payment platform that have ensured accountability. We have also initiated a strict trip monitoring system that has plugged leakages and made shady deals and shady treatment and extortion of passengers during trips almost impossible. 

It is therefore no surprise at all that the corrupt elements among the so called retained staff could go to any length to frustrate our reform policies. It is what their colleagues tried in the past but failed. We do not claim to have transformed Kwara Express into an eldorado at the moment but the work in progress and sincerity of purpose is so extensive that every well meaning staff and citizen of the state should willingly provide support for its effective actualization so that we can collectively reap the benefits in the end. But the reverse is the case for the group in question.

Amongst our modest achievements is the fact that since the reopening of Kwara Express under the new operational framework, no staff is owed a single kobo, as salary payment has been consistent and up to date. This is despite the fact that the previous administration left next to nothing in the treasury of the company and staff were also owed back then. We have observed however that some few corrupt elements prefer that their salaries are not paid in as much as they are able to cut deals and game the system, just like it was previously where funds that were supposed to go into the coffers of the company end up in individuals' pockets. 

The good news is however that more than 95% of the current staff of the company are in total alignment with the new order and the sanity that is rapidly returning to the company. Everyone agrees that what is left of the massive ongoing restructuring process is the acquisition of a new fleet of vehicles so that we can enhance our effectiveness, efficiency and excellent customers service and satisfaction.

It's instructive to also say that all arrangements have been completed to secure the acquisition of brand new vehicles into our fleet before the end of the year with some non-financial support from the government towards the activation of the beginning of the third phase of our turnaround management reforms in the company. This has therefore made it extremely expedient for us to unapologetically confront whatever is left in the system of the old order to ensure that Kwarans are not robbed of the huge opportunities that lie ahead of our state-owned transport company when it is able to secure a new fleet under a visionary management system with staff who exhibit the highest level of discipline and ethics. 

The antics of the few corruption-infested staff is the same old game and we have uncovered it. Previously, the justification of their recklessness and antagonism to Harmony Holdings was that its leadership and some of its elements that were deployed to manage the company were involved in several cases of financial irregularities and abuse of trust. They always claimed that they made so much money from their operations but HHL siphoned everything. What is their grouse today when we have a transparent and extremely accountable system with the very committed and disciplined team deployed from HHL breaking new grounds daily and running one of the most corrupt free administration which we challenge anyone to refute?

It is obvious that these elements just want to cash in on the exigencies of this political season to drive their mischief. They have however failed because this government is led by a consummate businessman with many years of excellent track records who knows the odds involved in the management of business enterprises and who believes that corporate entities should not be unduly influenced by politics if they must achieve the objectives for which they were set up. He is a performer who will undoubtedly win his second term on the strength of his performance record and not by playing cheap politics with critical pillars of the state’s economic transformation strategy or be blackmailed with cheap campaign of calumny to throw the entire reform process which is already yielding good fruits under the bus because elections are around the corner.

In line with their campaign of calumny, two weeks ago one of the staff in question had made a propagandist and cowardly video spreading all manner of lies and falsehood. For the purposes of clarification and public enlightenment, we wish to set the records straight. The driver masquerading in the dark video which some of you might have seen travelled with a company vehicle and knocked down its engine on the way. The company’s investigations showed that this was as a result of his carelessness and failure to carry out the mandatory due diligence check that is expected of all our drivers before the commencement of any trip. 

Thereafter, against standard company practices, he left the vehicle on the high way and came back home. Notwithstanding that act of misconduct, the management immediately gave the approval and released funds for the vehicle to be fixed based on the request submitted by the mechanics and confirmed by him. Surprisingly however, when the said driver went back, he, in collusion with the mechanic as is their usual practice, made a 360 degree u-turn by inflating the repair cost and exaggerating the fault against what he had earlier tendered, a move that was resisted by the management. He was handed the directive to unfailingly fix the vehicle based on the submitted and approved request or face stiff penalties. Instead of doing the needful, he resorted to theatrics and cheap campaign of calumny by making a video, spreading lies and falsehood while calling out several Otoge influence personalities that this was not what they promised them.

We therefore wish to correct him that the kind of reforms that is currently witnessed in Kwara Express which is almost complete although a painful process is what the Otoge campaign and principles represent. What Otoge means is bye gone to the days of deliberate mismanagement of public resources or failure to provide responsible leadership for public institutions for fear, favor or political expediency. 

Finally, we will like to state emphatically that our management is not deterred by their antics and we will continue to push the reform process, in the interest of over 3 million Kwarans who have been craving for a better Kwara Express and the revival of all our mismanaged collective patrimony under the jurisdiction of Harmony Holdings. 

Our goals for Kwara Express will not make us back down to please a few microscopic individuals driven by self-aggrandisement and corruption at the expense of Kwarans waiting for more progress in Kwara Express. Their political threats in a strictly business and profit-driven enterprise clearly define who they are and their agenda. For the management, our eyes remain fixed on the ball as we once again promise Kwarans that we will stop at nothing to complete the holistic ongoing reforms until we deliver the Kwara Express and Harmony Holdings of our collective dreams by the grace of God.

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