A dramatic increase in the price of electricity in Ganta, Nimba County, by Jungle Energy Power (JEP) has now sparked protests among electricity consumers.
Jungle Energy Power, a company owned by businessman Tomah Seh Floyd, Sr., a few days ago and without any public notice abruptly hiked the price of its electricity service meters from US$60 to US$100.
The hike in price, which comes amid of the coronavirus, means many families will be disconnected from the Nimba Grid of Liberia Electricity Corporation due to their inability to afford the new cost of power. The Nimba grid is supplied by the West Africa Power Pool through neighboring Ivory Coast.
Protesting the company’s action, electricity consumers in Nimba County, who are unable to gather due to COVID-19 restrictions, instead vented their anger on local radio stations by accusing the company of “profiteering at the detriment of the suffering people of Liberia.”
“We thought this electricity was going to be cheap to enable everybody to get connected, but the sharp increase in the meter fee and even the difficulty in getting connected surprises me,” said Elijah Moore, a cold water seller.
“Already people are buying their own wires, poles, and sometimes transformers before they can get connected, and if the fee goes up for a meter in this way, then it simply means that the electricity is not cheap as we were told from the onset,” said another caller.
According to JEP customers, the action by the company is “unjustifiable” and “undermines the pro-poor developmental agenda of the government.”
“It is against the people, their livelihood, and against goal #7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which require member states to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. It is based on this that the EU and other partners funded the Nimba grid electricity project,” consumers said.
Defending Jungle Energy Power’s action, the company’s general manager, Aleyou Keita, said the surge in meter price comes as a result of the market buying price, which is US$112.
According to Keita, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the company was in short supply of meters — a situation that forced them to procure more meters at the highest rate in “agreement with the customers who agreed to US$100.’
“Presently, we are giving meters to customers whose meters got damaged for US$60, while the newcomers are asked to pay US$100,” Keita said.
On the issue regarding the sale of wires, poles, and transformers, Keita denied the allegation; rather, he said customers are asked to purchase their own wire during shortage or wires.
“When shortages of wires hit the management, customers are recommended to purchase their wires from Dennis Electronic,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kieta complained of systematic power theft in the county, a condition he believes is hampering the smooth running of the company and leading to huge losses of revenue. However, Ganta residents argued that the issue of power theft is the result of poor customer service and the high cost of electricity.
“An electricity company is supposed to carry their lines in all the communities; once the line is there, customers will be encouraged to register and get connected. But the opposite is that you have to run after the company and buy your own materials,” residents said.
Jungle Energy Power obtain the rights to run the Nimba Grid after the Liberia Electricity Corporation privatized it in order to speedily distribute electricity to every community where the power line is available. But four years later, the company has struggled to do so and has only been able to provide electricity to half of Ganta City, and not to the entire Nimba County.
Worse still, there are no functional street lights.
Upon the running of the power lines from the Ivory Coast to Liberia by a Ghanaian Firm called Energy Venture, under the auspices of WAPP and funded by the European Union (EU), the power was run by LEC for some years before it was turned over to Jungle Energy Power.
Currently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding the electrification of some parts of Bong County from the power lines in Nimba County.