Liberia: The Power Theft Act, Has It Helped?
Theft of electricity, through illegal connections, tampering with meters, transmission and distribution lines, and theft of assets including poles, wires and transformers, remain the most singular challenge for the Liberia Electricity Cooperation LEC. As a consequence, LEC is experiencing high commercial loss and low revenue generation, which has translated into high electricity tariffs, currently amongst the highest in the world. The ability of LEC to engage in capital investment is also frustrated, and the corporation is constrained to rely on the support of international donor partners for needed capital investment, which is not sustainable.
To address these challenges, the Government of Liberia enacted a Power Theft Act which came into effect on the 4th of October, 2019. The Act characterizes power theft as a national security threat, and establishes a system of prohibitions and penalties in relation to illegal connections; tampering with meters, transmission and distribution lines; and theft of LEC assets including meters, light poles, wires and transformers.
The Act makes all forms of power theft a Second-Degree Felony punishable by jail terms ranging from two (2) years to seven (7) years and fines ranging from four hundred (US$400.00) to one thousand (US$1000.00) United States Dollars for individuals found guilty.
For industrial and commercial entities and syndicates, the Act provides for a fine of Ten Thousand United States Dollars (US$10,000.00) or doubles the gain from the commission of the crime, coupled with seizure and forfeiture of assets associated with the offense including vehicles, properties and bank accounts.
Laws are basically meant to serve as deterrent to all, stopping the commission of a well-defined act or activity. Given all the well spelled out details in this act, one key concern is whether this Act has sufficiently reduced power theft since its enactment in 2019.
Providing basic public utilities to all citizens and residents should be a priority to any good government. However, it seems as the Liberia government, through the LEC has been deficient in doing this. Liberians generally believe that the LEC has provided them poor and limited services. Most customers have, at a point, experienced limited connectivity, challenged system of distribution of electricity, and extremely poor customer services on the part on the LEC.
Many claim that they can financially afford an LEC home meter, paying for their electricity bills regularly. However, it takes forever getting a meter from the LEC. When it gets there, it takes more time for LEC to install it. Then, there is the transformer problems, which takes even longer (months in some cases) to be fixed.
Others times, residents have had electrical challenges and called the LEC but got no redress for several months, leaving them with no other option, but to engage in power theft. This is no justification for doing the wrong. On this count, much awareness should go along with prosecution.
Additionally, power thief has continued to increase, even amidst the increased intervention by international donors and key statements coming from influential foreign diplomats and partners on the issue. Many Liberians believe that we are still a million miles away from solving the challenges of power thief.
It seems as if people are seeing the causes of power thief from the position of the trickled down causes; the customer position, but the actual cause of the situation, as many believe, is rooted in the poor services provision of the LEC.
It is so frustrating to know that Liberia, with a population of nearly 4.6 million, provides electricity to less than 20% of its population, while our neighbor, the Ivory Coast (population of 23.7 million, according to The World Bank), provides electricity to about 94% of its population. Electricity should be a basic necessity provided for everyone. If only 20% has access to it, what becomes of the remaining 80%? How long will it take them to have electricity? With these questions we are all left to ponder the future little to no hope.
To conclude, the power thief Act apparently has all the hallmarks of a good law, but enforcement remains an issue. There remain other structural and administrative challenges that the authorities must address. To address this, the government will have to strategically increase investment (with rigid accountability conditions) in the LEC in a manner that increases legal access to electricity for all its population, not just in Monrovia, but across Liberia.
Also, LEC needs to work to improve customers services, if they must win customer interest in the doing the right. Services of LEC are not to be free. Therefore, the company must provide required services on time to customers when they are face with electrical challenges that requires the company’s intervention. Those recommendations are essential if power thief must begin to take a downward trend in Liberia.
Residents, too must consider ways of becoming more involved in the solution- ways that do not include power theft.
Macarthur Paul, MPA Candidate
University of Liberia Graduate School
Email: [email protected]