Days prior to his mysterious drowning, the former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC), Mr. Harry Greaves, several times appeared before the Legislature with documents encouraging the past administration to consider the privatization of certain components of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).
One of the important areas of the late Graves’ bulky document to the Legislature was the distribution of power, which believed was not adequately monitored, hence the alarming rate of power theft.
The late Greaves’ dream to realize cheap and affordable electricity remains elusive as the rate of power theft has now reached an alarming proportion, prompting President George Weah to seek legislative intervention by sending a bill to the lawmakers known as the “Power Theft Bill”.
The Secretariat of the Senate on Monday, August 12, 2019, confirmed that the final report from the Senate’s joint committee will be on the agenda for Tuesday’s (today) sitting; and that a definite decision is possible.
Among other things, President Weah in his April 2019 communication, requested the Senate 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.”
President Weah reminded the lawmakers 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 added that the high cost of electricity is also a direct result of massive 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 loosing in excess of US$35 million per year to electricity theft. This huge lose 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 the country, in support of the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.
“There have been demonstrations in so many communities where transformers are overloaded by illegal customers due to power theft,” he said.
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.
The Senate, through a report submitted by its joint committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and the Judiciary, two weeks ago, kicked off debate on the Bill, with some calling for stringent legislation to help curtail power theft, such as making it a second degree felony.
Lofa County Senator George Tengbeh, current chairman of the committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment, informed 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 LEC.
Former chairman of the Lands, Mines and Energy Committee, Pro Tempore Albert T. Chie, for his part, out-rightly apportioned some blames of power theft to some local hotel operators, and he, too said that a stringent legislation needs to be put in place as the way out.
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 and the Telecommunications sector 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 final reports.
“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 employee on condition of anonymity told our reporter.
The ex-employee added that the illegal connections has now become a very lucrative business in Monrovia.