LEC Reverts to Liberian Management

 

 

 

... “Our team is fully prepared to take over and we can assure you that this risk will be successful because we are prepared and fully equipped to move forward,” said Thomas Gonkerwon, Executive Director for Transmission and Distribution at LEC.

The Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) is now 100 percent under the management of Liberians after ESB International struggled for five years to impose sweeping changes in order to standardize the national grid operator and make it profitable.

The Irish power consulting firm, having completed its contract, experienced a number of issues that restricted its capacity to provide reliable power supply while achieving profitability for LEC.

Hired in 2018, ESBI could not turn the tide in favor of the public corporation due to numerous reports of power theft, alleged political interference, and government debt to LEC.  At present, 11 government entities, most of whom are prominent, owe the LEC more than US$1 million for the supply of electricity.

This issue, along with power theft, were some of the biggest problems that enveloped ESBI during its operation in Liberia, resulting in a loss of 60 percent of revenue to power theft, amounting to more than US$4 million monthly — depriving the Irish management firm of much-needed funds to expand power supplies.

But the kinja is now in the hands of Liberians who without any grace period, must keep the ball rolling by enforcing substantial reforms to ensure that LEC becomes more of a profitable asset, and less of a liability. Those reforms, large and little, would have to primarily focus on eliminating power theft, increasing power distribution and grid expansion, and enhancing customer services if profitability is a target.

“Our team is fully prepared to take over and we can assure you that this risk will be successful because we are prepared and fully equipped to move forward,” said Thomas Gonkerwon, Executive Director for Transmission and Distribution at LEC.

He however warned that while the issue of stable electricity supply is possible, funding is required — a hint that the government needs to meet up with its debt obligations to the company. 

According to Gonkerwon, although the Liberian team is ready to turn the struggling LEC around, they need the support of everyone — particularly the government and the public as it relates to the fight against power theft — a situation that has resulted in less than 20% of Liberians having access to electricity through the grid.

At present, the government has set itself the target of rolling out electricity to 70% of Monrovia’s population of more than one million by 2030. But with power theft on the increase and government entities not paying for current on time, this ambition remains highly unlikely. 

“The human resources are available, but what is needed is the financial support that will back the program,” Gonkerwon said. “And to be clear, as we drive towards moving electricity not only into Monrovia but into Liberia, it will require the financial and moral support of everybody.”

Reechoing his colleagues’ call, M. Hady Sheriff, the LEC Executive Director for Commercial and Regulation, added that while ESB is leaving on a good note, the challenges that once faced the Irish firm still exist. However, they are prepared to face the challenges and to pick up “from where the firm stopped.” 

He added that “those challenges still exist, and those of us who will take over from ESB International should brace ourselves and be prepared to meet these challenges as well.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of LEC, Monie R. Captan, said the success of ESB International is that they can leave today and there is a team that can continue.

“Let’s not overlook the challenges that you all face. It is not only the human capacity issues; we have a network with many challenges. We are victims of our only success.” 

“When ESB International came to Liberia, our customer base was around 30,000 to 40,000, but we have exponential growth and we have exponential challenges that we have to address. So the task is there. Let us not take it for granted that it is going to be a smooth ride,” Captan said.

He told the gathering that the Liberian team is fully equipped and up to the task of moving forward the country’s electricity generation and supply.

“This is the team that is taking from ESB International,” Captan declared. “They have a long period of mentorship working together with the ESBI counterpart and the chairman of the Board. I made it my business to have a meeting with them and I think we made a lot of progress in that they are ready to go.” 

In remarks, the outgoing Chief Executive Officer of the LEC, Paschal Buckley, said serving the country's energy sector has been one of the most challenging for him and also rewarding throughout his entire career.

He stated that while serving as a consultancy company, he did not just look at it from that angle, but saw himself as LEC and all the decisions that were made were not intentional but all were in the best interest of LEC.

While summarizing the achievements made by the ESB International team, Buckley said over a million Liberians have been connected to the LEC grid over the last four and a half years. By doing so, he said, they put in place an organization and governance structure that will head the LEC and maintain its status and consolidate the gains made, among others.

“With this, we formally hand over the baton to the new management team and wish you every success in going forward,” Buckley said.