‘High Electricity Tariffs Contributing to Power Theft’

(From left) Minister of Mines and Energy, Gessler E. Murray; Head of EU Delegation to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse; and French Ambassador Michaël Roux.

 

... Says Minister of Mines and Energy Gessler E. Murray

The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) has attributed the increase in power theft to the high tariff placed on electricity by the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), which is therefore calling for an immediate reduction to enable more Liberians to have access to electricity.

MME Minister, Gessler E. Murray, said the LEC's current tariff on power distribution stands at 35 cents per kilowatt hour, thereby making it difficult for more citizens to access electricity affordably.

“The current tariffs for electricity which stand at 35 cents per kilowatt hour are unexpectable by this government,” he said.

Min. Murray called on the management of LEC to immediately cooperate with the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission (LERC) for a considerable reduction in the tariff of electricity on the National grid. 

The Minister made these remarks at a joint press conference between the Government of Liberia and the European Union at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) on Thursday, October 21. Present at the press event was the head of the European Union delegation to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse, French Ambassador, Michaël Roux, Chargée d’Affaires Kate O’Donnell of Ireland and Deputy German Ambassador Peter Speyrer of Germany.

The minister noted that despite the passage of the law against power theft by the government, illegal connection on the electricity grid is still a menace.  According to him, only 20% of Liberians have access to electricity and the reliability of the power distribution is still a bit challenging. 

Min. Murray also blamed these challenges on the limited response by LEC to customers, despite the rehabilitation of the customer response center erected by the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

“The timely and technical response is still very limited, with a high tariff for electricity,” the MME minister said.

Naming remedies to tackle power theft, Min. Murray recommended the establishment of the fast track power theft court that will timely prosecute alleged corporates and perpetrators, along with a task force composed of the MME, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance Development Planning, the Ministry of State, the Liberia National Police, and LEC.

“In our quest to revamp the energy sector as per the PAPD, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which has statutory oversight responsibility on the energy sector, is recommending the establishment of the fast track power theft court that will timely prosecute alleged power theft corporates and perpetrators.”

For his part, the EU Ambassador Delahousse notably said since two years ago, special legislation was adopted to criminalize power theft through the Power Theft Act of 2019, but not much has been done to track power theft cases in the judicial system.

He then endorsed Min. Murray’s call for the establishment of the power theft court and the appointment of specialized judges and prosecutors.  “The EU and its Member States encourage the Government of Liberia to make this happen fast,” Ambassador Delahousse added. The purpose of the joint press conference yesterday was to echo and follow up on the statement made by US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy on  August  26, 2021, warning the government of Liberia to fight power theft or lose donor support.

“Let me underline that I agree one hundred percent with every word of Ambassador McCarthy’s statement," Ambassador Delahousse said.

Ambassador McCarthy had warned that more than half of all the electricity LEC generates is not paid for; that each connection that is not generating revenue is a step toward the collapse of the electric grid. “If power theft and corruption continues in Liberia, the country will lose donors’ support,” said Ambassador McCarthy. 

In a more damaging comment, the EU Ambassador said power theft also affects confidence from potential investors and partners around the world. “How can you convince international donors and private companies to invest in the electricity sector when more than half of the output is lost or stolen,” he asked.

Regarding the amount of Liberians who are legally connected to the grid, Ambassador Delahousse said: “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.” 

He added that since 2008, the EU has contributed close to US$140 million in grants to the Government of Liberia for power distribution.  According to him, the EU is currently connecting 38,000 customers in the capital city under the Monrovia Consolidation of Electricity project as of March 5th this year. Other projects from the European Union to deliver electricity to the people of Liberia are in the pipeline, in Buchanan, and some rural communities.

In terms of power generation, Ambassador Delahousse said plans are in the making to bring the installed capacity in Liberia from 126 Megawatts today (88 megawatts at Mount Coffee, 38 at Bushrod Island), to over 400 Megawatts in the not too distant future. 

The European Ambassador however called for holistic work to fight power theft. “The Government of Liberia, LEC, the people of Liberia, and the international donor community all need to work together to address this urgent challenge,” he said.

“No free current, no ‘sell-pay’ for current, current da na free,” the EU Ambassador added in an attempt at Liberian parlance.