— As debate on Pres. Weah’s ‘Power Theft Bill’ Commenced
The Senate plenary has kicked off debate on the recent bill submitted by President George Weah to the lawmakers for enactment into law a Bill to amend the Penal Law Chapter 15, by adding thereto a new section 15.88 to provide for Power Theft.
Senator George T. Tengbeh, chairman of the Senate committee on Land, Mines, Energy and Environment, kicked the debate last Thursday with a suggestion that, to curtail the issue of power theft, it should be made a second degree felony, which will punish an offender with a fine and a jail term as precedent for other would be offenders.
The Lofa County lawmaker warned his colleagues that unless some stringent legislation is put into place, power theft will remain a very lucrative business for criminals through the connivance with some employees of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC.)
Former chairman of the Lands, Mines and Energy Committee, President Pro Tempore Albert T. Chie, outrightly passed some of the blame for power theft on some local hotel operators, while agreeing that a stringent legislation needs to be put in place as the way forward.
Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay, argued that the bill should not be restricted to the LEC alone, but to all other public facilities and utility services like the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) and the Telecommunications should be included in the current bill.
“In this report, I believe we should also have Water and Sewer, because if we want to criminalize the theft of public services, I think we should not limit ourselves to only LEC, we need to get to work and submit an amendment to this bill to make it obligatory for this government to also go into the rural part of this country to put LEC in place as well,” Teahjay said.
Other Senators argued however, that the lead committee to deal with the current bill should have been the judiciary, “but regrettably, there is no reference to a court; this bill should have been seen by legal minded people to see how to phrase it.”
The report was returned to the two committees (Judiciary and Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment) for the inclusion of views and comments made by individual senators for the final report.
President Weah, in April 2019, submitted for enactment into law a bill to amend the Penal Law Chapter 15, by adding thereto a new section 15.88 to provide for “Power Theft.”
The President reminded the lawmakers in his communication that power theft damages the country’s economic development, “and is a crime akin to sabotaging the economy, it destroys life and property when dangerous illegal connections are made, sometimes causing fire outbreak.”
He further that the high cost of electricity is also a direct result of massive power theft in the country. “There have been demonstrations in so many communities where transformers are overloaded by illegal customers due to power theft.”
The President said that “statistics show that 10 percent of power theft will cost the LEC US$8 million; today, because of the increase in illegal connections, the LEC is losing in excess of US$35 million per year to electricity theft. This huge loss is preventing the LEC from extending supply to many areas of the country where citizens are crying out for electricity, and also preventing LEC from offering connections to many businesses that can offer much needed employment opportunities to many Liberians.
President Weah expressed trust that the Legislature will enact into law the Act, which he said will improve the energy sector in support of the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD.)
The Bill, sponsored by Grand Kru County Senator Peter Coleman, was sent to the relevant committees and, due to “the importance attached to it,” were requested to report to plenary within a week.
“As good as the bill appears to be, the major problem will be government’s ability and/or willingness to implement punishment for illegal connectors, as most culprits are from either the vote rich slum communities, or even some big names within the LEC system itself,” a former LEC executive told the Daily Observer in confidentiality, adding that the illegal connection has now become a very lucrative business in Monrovia.