A man identified as Clay Johnson was last week arrested by members of the Liberia National Police (LNP) Anti-theft Division in the Rehab area in Paynesville along the Roberts International Airport highway for fraudulently impersonating as an employee of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).
The fake LEC employee bearing a fake ID# LEC-2528, with a position “Customer Service Linesman,” was on Wednesday, last week apprehended by the LNP after he allegedly collected the amount of US$870.00 dollars from a resident of the RIA Rehab community with a promise of providing the person three light poles.
According to Mr. Eric Bracewell who was allegedly duped by suspect Johnson, the LEC power output in their community has been very weak over time either due to the weight on the electricity grid or due to low capacity of the transformer.
Hence, he contacted the LEC to provide him a personal transformer so that he could purchase it. According to him, he was recommended to the importer, where he had gone to do his purchase. However, after assessing his community, he was advised to also purchase three light poles for the installation of the transformer.
According to Bracewell, it was at this point that the fake LEC employees introduced himself and offered that his department at LEC was responsible for the distribution of the light poles. Bracewell said the suspect was hired to provide the three poles.
The victim alleged that Johnson told him to provide the amount of US$1,000.00 for the three poles including transportation of the poles to be provided in a week. However, Bracewell said since he gave the fake LEC employee his money, he (Johnson) stopped taking his calls and was nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Bracewell explained further that he reported the matter to the LNP Zone 8 Depot in Paynesville. When the fraudulent LEC employee was contacted, he admitted to the commission of the crime, but however failed to turn himself in to the police, thus prompting a man-hunt and arrest for him.
According to a police informant, Johnson with his intent to continue his duping spree, was contacted to provide three meters for the informant, through third party, it was at this point that he was apprehended by the LNP officers in Paynesville city.
According to other community residents interviewed, Johnson has been posting as an employee of the LEC, distributing electricity in the community and also promising to provide or replace stolen meters, light poles or wires.
But residents said these materials are never made available. One of Johnson’s victims is said to be Montserrado County District Six Representative, Rev. Samuel Enders and Founder of the African Dream Academy. Meanwhile, the fake LEC employee has been formally charged by the Liberian National Police and is to be arraigned to court this week.
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 to the viability and sustenance of LEC as a public utility company.
The challenge involves individuals tampering with and making illegal connections in their communities to the LEC power lines. It also involves organized syndicates with elaborate structures posing as LEC operatives and involving some former and current employees of the corporation.
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.
Higher tariffs also lead to high production costs which invariably disincentive private sector investment and undermines economic and social development in Liberia.
To address these challenges, the Government of Liberia has enacted a Power Theft Act which came into effect on the 4th of October, 2019. The Power Theft 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 (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.
People are said to be stealing about 60% of the electricity generated in Liberia annually by making illegal connections to their homes and businesses, the state-owned power utility has said.Power theft has caused annual losses of about US$35m (£27m), Liberia Electricity Corporation. This was situation has caused the utility of cash for extending power supply. However, power theft in Liberia is a common practice among community members who feel frustrated over the bureaucracy involved in getting electricity from the state corporation.