With a unanimous vote of yea, the Senate at its 57th day sitting on Thursday, August 29, 2019 passed President George Weah’s Power Theft Bill with violation punishable as a felonious act.
Maryland County Senator H. Dan Morais, however, announced a motion for reconsideration.
The Senate’s action was based on a recommendation contained in a report submitted to plenary by the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment and Judiciary.
In its decision to make power theft a felony, the committee firstly defined it under the Black Law Dictionary’s 18th edition of 2004 as a serious crime, usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death, such as is brought against acts of burglary, arson, rape and murder.
The George Tengbeh-chaired committee, however, observed that the 2015 Electricity Law did not criminalize power theft as a crime that sabotages the country’s development.
“Therefore, this current bill is meant to repeal Chapter 6, Section 6.1.3 of the 2015 Law of Liberia, and to amend Chapter 15 of the Penal Law of Liberia by adding a new section 15.88 to make power theft a felony.
“Section 6.13 of the 2015 Electricity law provides that theft of electricity is a criminal offense, and shall be prosecuted under the laws of the Republic of Liberia; obtaining or attempting to obtain electricity or electric current without payment is considered theft of electricity, and shall be prosecuted under the Liberian law,” the committee said.
The committee’s findings said that power theft is considered a crime and national security threat, because it damages the country’s economic development; it is equal to sabotaging the economy; it destroys life and property when illegal connections are made, sometimes causing fire outbreak; power theft constitutes tampering with the transmission, distribution or improper use of electric meters, etc; that penalties shall be awarded by a competent court of jurisdiction based on the seriousness of the offense…
The committee then recommended that the plenary of the Senate pass the ‘Power Theft Act’ into law to reduce power theft by criminalizing it, which will promote economic development.
In proffering the motion for the Senate vote, Senator Augustine Chea moved “that the report be endorsed and that the recommendations and the Bill be enacted into law.” Pro Tempore Albert Chie, however, announced Senator Morais’ motion for reconsideration.
The Act will now go to the House of Representatives for concurrence, before submitting same to the President for his signature and printing into handbills.
President Weah in April 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.
He 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.”
President Weah added that the high cost of electricity is also a direct result of massive power theft, noting, “There have been demonstrations in so many communities where transformers are overloaded by illegal customers due to power theft.”
The President said “statistics show that 10% of power theft will cost the LEC US$8 million; today, because of the increase in illegal connections, the LEC is loosing in excess 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 then expressed the hope 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 (PAPD).
The bill, sponsored by Grand Kru County Peter Coleman, was sent to the relevant committees, and due to its importance, it was requested that a report be made to plenary within a week.
“As good as the Act 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 told our reporter, adding that illegal connection has now become a very lucrative business in Monrovia.