“Combat Power Theft” -EU Ambassador Urges Liberian Govt.

Just like on August 26, 2021 when the United States Ambassador to Liberia Mr. Michael MCarthy raised his concerns against the high incidence of power theft in the country, the European Union Ambassador to Liberia , Mr. Laurent Delahousse has added his own displeasure of the situation and has called on the government to take concrete action to nail it down as it is a serious hindrance to the generation, distribution and availability of affordable electricity in the country.

The Ambassador made the assertion yesterday, Thursday, October 21, 2021 when at the regular MICAT briefing where on the invitation of the Minister of Mines and Energy, Mr. Gesler Murray, he attended the occasion to give an assessment of the energy sector in the country from the perspective of the contribution and intervention from the European Union as a strategic partner driving the project to provide affordable electricity in the country.

Accompanied by Ambassador Michaël Roux of France, Chargée d’Affaires Kate O’Donnell of Ireland, Deputy Ambassador Peter Speyrer of Germany, Ambassador Delahousse gave a general overview of the state of power generation in the country since 1990 when the war reached its height, the involvement of the EU in the revitalization of sector, the challenges and what is need to be done for Liberia to have affordable electricity throughout the country for the socio-economic development of the country and pointed out power theft as a major factor against any worthy investment in the energy arena.

“As outlined by the American Ambassador, over half of the electricity produced by LEC is either stolen or unpaid for. If you add to that the power that is lost during transport for technical reasons, less than a third of the electricity produced by LEC is paid for. The consequence is that the tariff for electricity remains high and the many honest Liberians who pay their bills have to pay an even higher price because theft reduces the revenues of the power utility : honest Liberians have to pay for those who steal, and that is by no means fair. Tampering with the power installations is dangerous : it overcharges the network, which may result in fire or even explosions, putting human lives at risk in the community. Illegal connections damage the network and inflict additional maintenance costs to LEC”.

He noted that the more power is stolen from LEC, the less capacity LEC has to extend the network and bring power to more Liberian families.

“This cannot continue as it is seriously threatening the financial viability of the operator. Losing close to 50 million US dollars annually is certainly a cause for very serious concern. Illegal connections, tampering with meters, theft of assets including light poles, wires, and transformers must stop immediately”.

The outspoken EU envoy stated that power theft also affects confidence from potential investors and partners around the world wondering how can a country convince international donors and private companies to invest in the electricity sector when more than half of the output is lost or stolen. He added that power theft has consequences beyond the power sector, it affects Liberia as a place of doing business.

“However, and I must insist again, in order to realise that goal, everyone must pay for the electricity they use.  Power theft is crippling LEC. It is anti-poor and it is a threat to the implementation of the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. It must stop, now”, he said with emphasis..

While acknowledging the action of government to criminalize power theft through the promulgation of Power Theft Act of 2019 as a welcome step forward, and despite enormous efforts by the Revenue Protection Team of LEC, he said none of the power theft cases currently in the judicial system has yet been brought to a successful conclusion.

He however said that a more resolute implementation of the Act has been observed recently, making reference to the recent arrest and prosecution of individuals involved with power theft and the strong proclamations of LEC against power theft. “LEC staff caught tampering with equipment face strong and immediate disciplinary action and prosecution. As the Minister has just announced, the establishment of a special fast-track power theft court with the appointment by the Judiciary of specialized judges and prosecutors is a major breakthrough. The EU and its Member States encourage the Government of Liberia to make this happen fast”, he noted.

He said all these measures are most welcome, but further action from all stakeholders is necessary and the EU will continue monitoring progress stressing that combating power theft is the responsibility of everyone because its consequences affect everyone. He noted that nobody, however powerful, however influential, however connected, should be spared if they commit, protect or benefit from power theft.

“Today, I cannot over-emphasise that the European Union and its Member States are highly committed to the successful performance and development of the electricity sector in Liberia. A steady and reliable power supply is essential for the Liberian people and economy.  “Powering Liberia to empower Liberians”, the envoy said. He placed emphasis on the need for people to stop stealing power and should pay for it with the Liberian parlance ‘No free current, No seh pay for current, current da na free’, which drew laughter and cheers from the audience.

Ambassador Delahousse had earlier given a general overview of the country’s energy sector from the point where it was destroyed due to the war to the end of the war when hundreds of millions of dollars from Europe, the United States and other donor institutions and countries have been spent in the country to  rebuild the energy sector to benefit the country and its people and to the current state it is.

He said the Bushrod Island fuel and gas plants, the Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant, the ongoing transmission and distribution developments have all relied and continue to rely on quasi exclusive international funding, on foreign taxpayer money.

As a background to the current improvement process, he said the priority for the short term is, first, on developing and making full use of the transmission networks, both nationally and throughout the region with the CLSG power line that connects Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinée. He stated that it was necessary to accelerate the connection of communities and large users to the CLSG transmission line to take full advantage of this strategic asset for the country to expand delivery of electricity to all Liberians and increase revenues of LEC.

“The priority is also, and mostly, on extending distribution, since 88% of Liberians today are not connected to the grid. Distribution projects financed by the European Union and the World Bank will soon allow the connection of more than 200,000 households around Greater Monrovia, twice the number of a year ago. Since 2008, the European Union has contributed close to 140 million US dollars in grants to the Government of Liberia for power distribution. The EU is currently connecting 38,000 customers in the capital city under the Monrovia Consolidation of Electricity project and on March 5th this year, I had the honour and the pleasure to join His Excellency President George Manneh Weah in connecting the Peace Island community to the grid. Other projects from the European Union to deliver electricity to the people of Liberia are in the pipeline, in Buchanan and in some rural communities”.

Touching on power generation, the diplomat said plans are in the making to bring the installed capacity in Liberia from 126 Megawatts today (88 megawatt at Mount Coffee, 38 at Bushrod Island), to over 400 Megawatts in the not too distant future. He noted that this will involve adding new hydropower units at Mount Coffee, developing solar farms and possibly, but in a more distant future, developing new hydropower capacities on Saint Paul’s River.

“For these projects to materialize, Liberia will need to leverage private investments and only a transparent and competitive bidding process can ensure that qualified contractors are selected who can help Liberia get affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity”.

The Ambassador while being optimistic about the  improvement in the power sector, called on the government under the leadership of President George Manneh Weah to define a master plan for the development of its power sector which should include among other things, new generation capacities to meet the expected increase in power consumption, ambitious use of Liberia’s assets for renewable energy such as hydro and solar power, sustainable participation to the regional network offered by the CSLG line, strengthening of the client base through the connection of more Liberian businesses, delivery of power to many more Liberian households and families and bringing the tariff of electricity, which is exceptionally high in Liberia, to levels more affordable for ordinary Liberian families.

“The international partners and friends of Liberia call on the Government of Liberia for clarity on its strategy for the electricity sector, for a vision on “powering Liberia to empower Liberians”, he said.

Also addressing the press conference the Minister of Mines and Energy Gesler E. Murray recommended the establishment of a fast track power theft court that will timely prosecute alleged power culprits and perpetrators in the country.

The Mines and Energy Boss also called for the establishment of a national task force on power theft which will cooperate with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Ministry of States, Liberia National Police and the Liberia Electricity Corporation.

Murray further proposed that there should be decentralization of the LEC customer response service in communities that would timely respond to the technical and commercial needs of customers on the national grid and the participation of private sector investment in generation, transmission, distribution of electricity across Liberia.

The Mines and Energy Boss is calling on the LEC to cooperate with the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission(LERC) for considerable reduction in the tariff of electricity on the national grid adding that the current tariff for electricity which stands at 0.35cent per KWh is unacceptable by the Weah led government.

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