Clear the Blemish on Liberia’s Electricity Sector.

Guest Editorial by Jimmy Nyanwapolu- Energy Policy Analyst 

As Liberia wobbles with its electricity supply systems especially around Monrovia city with massive power shedding and blackouts, energy actors and authorities of the African Continent met in Washington, DC on March 5-6th to discuss Africa’s electrification challenges and opportunities as they seek solutions to lowering the cost of debt financing for energy infrastructures with acceptable government sovereign guarantees.

Ministerial RoundTable session 

Though authorities from Liberia’s electricity sector were absent, Liberia’s electricity stories were referenced in most panel discussions as worst case scenarios in terms of quality services and credit worthiness to drive private sector investments. The Ministerial RoundTable moderator, Andrew Herscowitz, who is very versed with the United States Government support to Liberia’s energy sector, drew questions around the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact support to the Mt Coffee Hydro rehabilitation project and its current benefits to Liberians. Discussions also centered around if Liberia was leveraging the West African Power Pool networks through the CLSG corridor for affordable and reliable electricity supply to its citizens amid indebtedness to CI Energies of Ivory Coast. Another panel discussion moderated by the African Development Bank questioned the Government’s choice of building new hydroelectric plants along the St Paul River when the full capacity of the current Mt Coffee plant is never fully utilized during the same wet season the new St Paul Plant would rely on. More to that, building transmission networks to deliver power to the current Monrovia grid requires time and resources as distribution infrastructures expansion to consume Mt Coffee full output remain a challenge. Regrettably, in the midst of all these time and cost related choices,  Liberia owes on its cross border power imports from Ivory Coast which international partners believe could have been an optimal opportunity to have most customers supplied reliably.

AfDB moderated panel on Africa Energy Transition 

To clear this blemish on Liberia’s electricity sector and attract international support system and confidence, robust policy steps must be taken to elevate the electricity crisis as a national priority. As President Joseph Boakai appoints a new Board Chair of the state owned electricity company, LEC,  followed by talks with WAPP and CLSG authorities in Ivory Coast, the Liberian government as a whole must be intentional about a reliable power supply goal that is attainable and sustainable. The 2009 National Energy Policy strategies, the 2015 electricity law and international best regulatory practices  must be reviewed and considered for robust implementation. Recent efforts by two members of the Legislature to seek public clarity on LEC challenges given its supply performance seem to have died naturally. Rep Taa Wonge of Nimba County requested a House hearing to seek clarity while Gbarpolu County Senator, Amara Konneh submitted a detailed situation analysis of the electricity crisis to the Liberian Senate seeking clarities from both LEC and its LERC regulator on the current power crisis. Unfortunately, a motion was taken on the Senate floor sending that concern of huge national interest to Committee room. Till today, neither the House or Senate has acted on those requests for public information.

I suggest that Liberia's electricity authorities and stakeholders along with financing and development partners hold a mini summit to review the sector and identify its performance and investment challenges. This would generate public inputs and develop implementable recovery policies and mechanisms to account and measure the impacts of donor fundings to the sector. With regard to  government agencies credit worthiness to LEC, stringent fiscal measures must be derived to hold  every agency directly responsible for their LEC billing and treatment like any other bill paying customers.   It undermines corporate efficiency for government agencies to owe millions of dollars in LEC’s revenue and expects quality service to the population. An uncollectible power bill is truly equivalent to  white collar power theft.