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GOL, businesses, and cartel milk LEC

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-U.S. Ambassador McCarthy explains

By Jonathan Browne

United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy strongly indicts the Government of Liberia, unscrupulous businesses, and cartels of highly placed officials of strangulating the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) thru irregular payment of bills, illegal connections, and use of services without payment, thus robbing the corporation of revenue.

Amb. McCarthy notes that the Government of Liberia is the largest customer of LEC electricity but is often behind on payments, while unscrupulous businesses illegally hook up their power onto the corporation’s grid, and a well-organized electricity theft cartel benefits well-connected businesses and government officials at the detriment of the entity.

Addressing a news conference in Monrovia on Thursday, 26 August following a tour of LEC facilities on Bushrod Island, the U.S. Envoy regretted there have been no convictions of businesses and individuals for power theft, despite the widespread nature of the issue, noting “It’s not enough to say that the power theft situation is complicated, or that it’s hard to fix.”

“I just returned from a tour of the Liberia Electric Corporation’s facilities on Bushrod Island. I’ll be honest, I was both impressed and discouraged by what I saw and heard”, says the Ambassador.

He calls for prosecutions, convictions, and substantial sentences plus fines for constant power theft in the country in order to protect the investments and set Liberia on the path to opportunity, stressing “This needs to be a systemic focus – nothing will improve without a strong response across the judicial system, supported at the highest levels of the Liberian Government.”

He further notes that the United States has spent over a billion on Liberia’s energy sector in the last decade, money that came from American taxpayers, wondering how can the U.S. Government continues to justify such generosity from its citizens when more than half of the power being generated by the system is permitted to be stolen with no consequences.

The Ambassador recalls that thru the Millennium Challenge Compact, the people of the United States provided more than $150million thru a grant to rehabilitate the Mount Coffee Hydropower Dam, the largest source of power in Liberia. “That was a grant; it was not a loan. It was a gift that Liberia never has to pay back.”

Exhibiting a chart of the corporation’s performance since 2015, which puts paid and unpaid bills at 38 percent, and technical and commercial unpaid bills at 68 percent, respectively, Amb. McCarthy explains that about two-thirds of the electricity the LEC generates does not result in revenue, asking, “Without that revenue, how can the corporation fix technical issues, respond to power interruptions and continue to connect more of Liberia to the power grid?

He also notes the LEC is a public, government-owned utility that produces a regular report on its operating status and that in its latest report, the corporation reveals that it has not been current in its bills for years, not because it has been wasting money, but that the reality is that no utility anywhere in the world can survive where less than half of its electricity is paid for, LEC being no exception.   

“If LEC can’t solve this power theft issue, it will continue to weaken financially, become even more dependent on government funding, and reduce reliability in operations”, he cautions.

He says this would in turn have a serious impact on the economy of Liberia, which depends on reliable electricity, just like any other country, to attract new investments and grow its economy. “That is the level of seriousness we are facing.” He emphasizes.

However, the U.S. Envoy notes that electricity tariff in Liberia is expensive, with Liberians paying 49 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 13 cents in America and France, 6 cents in Ghana, 10 cents in Guinea, and 12 cents in Ivory Coast, respectively, and asks why are Liberians paying four or five times more for less reliable electricity?”https://thenewdawnliberia.com/lra-and-lec-partner-to-collect-payment/

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