By Leroy M. Sonpon III
In an effort to tackle power theft, which has resulted into the loss of millions of United States dollars in potential revenue from the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has alerted the Legislature that there “shall be” heavy fines and imprisonment for those convicted of power theft.
In a letter to Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay and members of the House of Representatives, which was read yesterday in the House’s Plenary, the President said she has already instructed the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Patrick Sendolo, to promulgate stronger regulations to impose higher fines and prison terms pursuant to the Electricity Law of 2015 as amended, in order to mitigate the constant abuse of the country’s limited resources.
“I see this illegal action as economic sabotage, holding back our overall national development and the growth of our economy,” the President wrote.
The President said Liberia ranks among one of the highest in the world in terms of losses in the power sector, amounting to 47 percent, of which 33 percent is attributed to power theft.
She stated that LEC has embarked on a vigorous campaign to identify and disconnect illegal connections and, as a result of the exercise, many residential and large businesses have been found tapping into illegal connections, which has an impact on the reliability of the system, overloading transformers beyond their capacity, causing blackouts and electrical fires, and posing a serious risk to public safety.
“An example of a perpetrator is MONOPRIX, which is located on Benson Street, a well-known Supermarket in Monrovia. Just last week, they were caught by-passing the LEC meters, defrauding the government of tens of thousands of dollars per week,” the President said.
“Another example is two individuals, one by the name of Sulaman Jalloh, another by the name of Fallo Fallamu, who are both currently in jail awaiting trial. They connected hundreds of homes and businesses directly to the LEC transformer, again, costing this nation hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly as a result.”
She added: “Over the last two weeks, we have averaged 35 arrests per day – individuals who are all currently going through court proceedings. Those found liable will be billed retroactively for stealing power. LEC will also be imposing fines on businesses and homes.”
The President said the LEC has the intention of making significant strides in the reliability and accessibility of service delivery, which includes not renewing the contract of Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) – which ended on December 31, 2016 – a contractor that managed the LEC since July 2010.
“I then approved a LEC Board decision to bring in an interim management team of Liberian professionals who officially took over the entity on the 1st of January,” President Sirleaf said.
The LEC and the Liberia National Police (LNP) recently raided the Township of West Point that resulted in over 250 homes being disconnected and huge bundles of illegal wires confiscated.
LEC discovered several cables hooked to a high voltage line supplying the Township before distributing the illegal power to several homes.
The LEC team disconnected the illegal cable from a light pole, which was the main source, before moving from house to house to unstring a tangled mess of wires used for the exercise.
Residents disconnected said they had been paying US$40 monthly per household for the illegal connections
Power theft is widespread throughout the network areas of the Liberia Electricity Corporation and is causing huge revenue losses for the LEC. The company says it has lost over US$3 million to power theft this year alone.
Meanwhile, members of the House unanimously noted the President’s letter, and agreed to include it on Tuesday’s agenda for the 5th Day Sitting.