Liberia: ECOWAS Parliamentarians Abandon Session Due to Power Failure at Ministerial Complex

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MONROVIA – Members of the regional parliament attending the ECOWAS Fifth Legislative Parliamentary Seminar and 2022 Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament were forced to call off the session on Thursday due to the sudden breakdown of the generator supplying the Ministerial Complex electricity.

The sudden blackout, FrontPageAfrica gathered, left some of the dignitaries stranded in the elevator at the Ministerial Complex. They were rescued by technicians at the building.

“The generator broke down, but these things happen just like how humans fall and die. It started with the fuel – the machine ran out of fuel and they managed to get fuel, they tried putting it and it will come on and go off. They tried it several times it did not come on. Some of the dignitaries were stuck in the lift and the technicians had to come to their rescue,” a technician, preferring anonymity, working on the scene of blackout at Ministerial Complex Thursday.

The power was later restored but the Parliamentarians said they were not comfortable there any longer and would rather prefer using the Monrovia City Hall for the rest of their sessions until Monday when the heads of states are in.

“They were called back but they said they will rather use City Hall on Friday because they do not want to have a repeat. They asked the technicians to work on the machines to ensure that it does not happen when the heads of states are having their meeting next Monday,” a FrontPageAfrica reporter covering the session said.

FrontPageAfrica gathered that the Liberia was a chosen for the Conference at the last minute after the government had managed to convince the regional body to host the conference as part of its Bicentennial celebrations.

The issue of power supply at the Ministerial Complex has been one of an embarrassment, some employees there said. Most of the ministries at the Complex do not work on some days due to lack of electricity.

“What is happening here is that some almost all of the ministries here have their own small generators that can supply at least two offices and the rest of the offices remain off. People come to work and they cannot work because there is no electricity, so, we come, sign in, sit and do nothing until it’s time for us to go back home,” an employee with one of the ministries there said.

The Liberia Electricity Corporation has been carrying out load shedding since the beginning of the year. The load shedding usually last between 12 to 72 hours in some communities. This is as a result of the dry season which usually affects the volume of the St. Paul River which feeds the Mount Coffee Hydro.

On Thursday, the Senate gave the Liberia Electricity Corporation and its regulatory body a two-week ultimatum to submit its plan of actions with specific time line attached, and its ability to resolve the challenges being faced by the corporation.

Also, the Senate mandated that such plan be done in collaboration with the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah.

The Plenary action was predicated upon the appearances of LEC’s Board Chairman, Monie R. Captan and Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission Board Chairman, Lawrence Sekijipo. 

The two invitees stressed the need for Liberia to invest in regional generation phase in other to experience rapid growth in the economy.

During a Senate hearing on Thursday, February 3, 2022, Captan told the Senate that for 25 years the entire electricity infrastructure was damaged due to the civil crisis which basically had to be rebuild and upgraded based on the contributions from development partners (European Union, African Development Bank).

Speaking on the US$9.6 million debt owed by the Government of Liberia to the Ivorian Government, he disclosed that the lack of proper mechanism to regulate power pool at the three border points during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration led to the increase in said debt.

He asserted that the sector at the time had completed its infrastructure work at the three border points, but at such, was not prepared for full operation, adding that during a tour session of former President Sirleaf, a command was sent to turn the power of light on at those points which has remained till today landing Liberia in a huge debt.

Captan then promised to commission a comprehensive audit of the U$ 9.6million owed by the Liberian Government for proper accountability.

He also blamed the refusal of some entities of government and officials to pay electricity bills.

For his part, the chairman of the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission, Hon.  Lawrence Sekijipo recommended that the government of Liberia embark on measures such as; generation deficit, connecting to the CLSG line from Ivory Coast for a stable and reliable electricity, private sector investment among others as the surest ways to improve the Country’s energy sector.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Tweah disclosed on the state radio that the government is considering making some “tough choices” to resolve the electricity challenges in the country. He called on the public to be patient which the solution is being worked on.

He said, “It takes some time, it takes some patience, it takes some courage, it takes some honesty to explain to the Liberian people as I am doing right now, to come clean and not hide anything from them –all of the policy tools are on the table and ask them (Liberians), let’s bear patience; we will increase the capacity, we will better manage the load shedding. When we get through the next rainy season, when we get in January next year, we are not going to be in this same path,” Minister Tweah said.

During the dry season the Mount Coffee Hydro produces lesser power because of the low flow of water from the St. Paul River. Minister Tweah said the government is thinking about bringing the CLSG power to fill in the electricity gap.

“The CLSG project is on but we have to make some tough choices and tough decisions right now,” the Finance Minister stressed.

To start the CLSG project, Minister Tweah said, the government needs to pay US$10.4 million. He added that the real cost of the electricity that comes from neighboring Ivory Coast is US$3.6 million a month, the country will have to pay.

Also, Minister Tweah said the country will have to pay for two months – that is US$7.2 million for what he termed as security deposit before the CLSG project takes full effect.

Minister Tweah added that the Liberian government owes their Ivorian counterpart a sum of US$9 million for cross border trade of electricity in Maryland and Nimba Counties as the Liberia Electricity Corporation has not been paying the Ivorian government for the last three years.

“The Ivorian government says before we start CLSG, you have to put two million down and the remaining seven million, the government of Liberia will have to pay US$550,000 every month until the nine million is wiped out,” he said.

Minister Tweah added: “Also, the Liberian government will have to pay US$62,000 every month for the transmission of the line to the management of the CLSG.”

All of these, the Minister added that to get the CLSG project, the country will be prepared to pay an amount of US$48.8 million between now and December adding that as Minister of Finance he cannot assure that the government of Liberia has such amount to commit to the CLSG project as it is not in the current fiscal budget.

According to the Minister of Finance, even if the government signs the agreement with CLSG, when the rainy season comes in two months from now the country will have adequate power from the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant.

“The thing is that when we sign this thing and when the rainy season comes, two months from now, our hydro will come back to its full capacity and we are still going to be paying US$3.6 million every month while we have our hydro running at full capacity. And so, these are the things we are studying and these are the critical decisions we have to make,” Minister Tweah said.

According to the Minister, even if the government will have to cut its expenditure by 50 percent, an amount of US$29 million will still be made available by the CDC-led government.

“So, that is the choice that we have. It is an expensive preposition, we use it for one or two years and by the time we get all of our electricity infrastructures some of these stuffs will drop down,”

Minister Tweah added that the Legislature is calling for an extensive consultative meeting to look at what he termed as a critical issue. He added that President Weah has mandated that the government look at the situation as the current fiscal budget space is a challenge.

“Somebody says look, it is not going to be a smart thing right now for you to commit US$29 million -we got two more months then we will be free. We are going to use the rainy season time to plan better for the dry season. I do not think it will be a good use of the Liberian people’s money to lock them in for these two months at the cost of US$29 million and in two months’ time you will not need all the current, we will be wasting the money,” he added.

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