Liberia: ‘Cut All Illegal Connections’

President George Weah.

... Pres. Weah Orders LEC, holds meetings with key donor partners in energy sector

President George Weah has instructed the management of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to disconnect anyone who is not paying their bills or who has an illegal connection, regardless of their status.

The President gave the order during an energy sectoral meeting he hosted, which included the LEC management, World Bank Country Manager Khwima Nthara, United States Ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy, European Union Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, the German Ambassador, as well as other officials of the government, to find an amicable solution to the electricity nightmare in the country.

Captan, the Chairman of the Board of Directors at LEC, disclosed that President Weah has ordered LEC to clamp down on power theft.  Captan noted that the President is concerned about the persistent power shortage in the country. As such, he decided to call a high-level meeting to not just discuss the challenges the sector faced but identify solutions, but “we have a consensus or solutions ongoing”.

“We also receive a commitment from the President to disconnect anyone who is not paying their bills or who has an illegal connection, regardless of whether you are a government official or a government entity, and electricity is something that is not free,” Captan disclosed.

Power theft, which has been criminalized and can lead to more than two years of jail term and a fine, is a problem among both the rich and the poor. The problem is compounded by a lack of connection materials that limit the corporation`s capacity to expand service delivery and generate the needed revenue to sustain itself as a viable public utility.

The increase in power theft means people are stealing about 60% of the electricity generated by the state-owned power utility as a result of illegal connections to their homes and businesses. These illegal connections, which are something carried out by LEC staff, have for the last four years robbed the corporation of much-needed cash to extend power supply — making Liberia a country with one of the lowest access rates in the world for its population. 

So far, less than 20% of Liberians have access to electricity; however,  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 such ambition is highly unlikely when LEC, according to its manager,  is losing 60 percent of its revenue to power theft, amounting to more than US$4 million monthly.

The LEC Board Chairman further assures Liberians that as per the Wednesday meeting citizens should expect some rapid progress over the coming months or years in the sector. 

He added that as Liberia transitioned to buying electricity from neighboring Ivory Coast , it is expected that LEC will be in a good position to collect the required money for the current usage. 

“What we have been working on is not so much resolving the electricity problem overnight but to ensure that we do not have a repeat of what happened this dry season. And so we have put into place a mechanism to ensure that next dry season we will have adequate electricity for the general public,” Captan said.

"So I'm very much happy today that we have the full backing from the President to ensure that we bring power theft under control," he added. 

But to get the power from Ivory Coast via the TRANSCO CLSG  transmission line, the government will need to settle its Ivorian counterpart in the tune of US$9 million for cross border trade of electricity in Maryland and Nimba Counties, as a result of LEC’s inability to settle its bills for the last three years. After settling the bills, the government will have to also pay US$7.2 million as a security deposit before the CLSG power supply to Mount Coffee takes effect.

Accordingly, the Ivorian government is also demanding that US$550,000 is paid every month until the US$9 million debate is exhausted, while also paying the regular US$3.6 million a month, when the CLSG power kicks off.

The LEC Board Chairman at the same time commended the donor partners for what he described as their significant resources which they have contributed to the sector, noting that the public will see a great impact of that next year.

Also speaking, World Bank Country Manager Khwima Nthara described the meeting with the President as the most productive meeting they ever had in Liberia to ensure that the country's energy sector moves forward.  He said what is expected now is implementation because international planners agree on several issues including financing to the sector so what remains now is implementation. 

According to him, what remains now is the government commitment, which was evident to them for the President to hold such a meeting on the energy sector.

He said: "We’re already involved in the process and we are looking to provide more support including solar energy—we are already involved in that and we are helping to repair Mount Coffee but what we are trying to do is to provide particular support to expand the capacity for solar energy."   

For his part, the Held of the EU Delegation to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse said the outcome of the meeting was to show seriousness, the commitment of the government of Liberia to address the situation in the electricity sector, and on the part of the development donors. 

According to him, there was a lot of goodwill of support for the sector. 

"Everybody has work to do in this, the government and people of Liberia, the private sector, and the consumers of the electricity and we the donors are ready to support the sector as we have done in the past. We’re continuing our support to the sector of power distribution. We are going to work in Buchanan shortly. I am very proud to contribute to the sector and discussions are ongoing for support," said Ambassador Delahousse.

He also used the occasion to call on Liberians to pay their electricity bill because "if you have current you need to pay for it and if you don’t the problem in the sector will be in jeopardy. 

"So those who do not have power today will have to be patient until it comes and the EU is contributing in that direction and those who have must pay, especially homes that are connected with meters as well as participate in the efforts to ensure that the electricity sector in Liberia is viable". 

At the same time, US Ambassador to Liberia Charles McCarthy also said that the meeting was probably more substance than many other meetings.

"I think with those great hopes it raises a lot of hope for short-term and long-term solutions to the energy sector problems. It was impressive and I think we all left the meeting optimistic about the energy sector and LEC. Well as you know the MCC contributed significantly with repairs of the Mount Coffee Dam to the tune of 253 million dollars," he stated.

According to him, there is a desire in the United States to Liberia for a second MCC compact that is more likely to happen if all players agreed that the government of Liberia come through to play their role instead of rallying the sector or securing the energy sector and lowering the risk in the energy environment for additional investment by outsiders because ultimately "we have one goal and that goal is for Liberia to be the desired destination for foreign investment."

This, he said, foreign investment will bring additional solutions, a solution that people planning around the table cannot imagine and that's when things come to happen. 

He said: "I think with this kind of intervention today with a solid plan and real long-term and short-term solutions will lead to a solid or better environment. "Today, I returned to my office as a very satisfied Ambassador and optimistic about the energy sector of Liberia."

Meanwhile, the donor partners as part of their discussions agreed to have a quarterly meeting to ensure that they all review their commitments as well as progress in the sector.