Liberia: Ongoing House Probe Finds Power Theft, Government’s Failure to Pay Bills Regularly Posing Serious Cash Flow Challenges for Electricity Service Providers

MONROVIA – The Liberia Electricity Corporation, under its all-Liberian management team, has been given high ratings since it took over at the end of July 2022. However, the re-introduction of power shedding measures due to the low water volume in the St. Paul River as the result of the dry season has created dissatisfaction among some members of the public and prompted the House of Representatives to launch an investigation.

By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – gerald.koinyeneh@frontpageafricaonline.com

The plenary’s decision, reached during the 11th Day Sitting on Thursday, stems from a communication submitted by Representative Taa Wongbe (District #9, Nimba County).

Representative Wongbe cited various reports indicating issues that border on the disruption in electricity supply and salary issue. The House then unanimously agreed to launch an inquiry, tasking the Committee on State-Owned Enterprises and Public Utilities to conduct a thorough investigation into the LEC. The committee has stated its work. FrontPage Africa observed top officials of the LEC were disembarking their vehicles on Monday at the grounds of the Capitol and heading to the House of Representatives’ wing of the building for an exhaustive meeting with committee members.

While the meeting was held behind closed door, legislative sources told FrontPageAfrica that ongoing investigation by the Committee on State Enterprises, Commissions and Autonomous Agencies show that other underlying causes are hindering the smooth operations of the LEC, chief among them include high power theft rate and failure of the government, which is a major consumer of electricity, to pay its current bill regularly.

FPA also gathered that other factors hindering the sector, that make it difficult to attract private independent investors are, tariffs are not cost reflective and therefore would not be profitable to engage in the sale of electricity. In addition, the legal system is too cumbersome and does not give comfort to potential investors.

Despite these challenges, the committee was briefed that LEC, as a service operator, has continued to operate and provide services to the public.

However, a former senior official of the Weah-led government told FrontPageAfrica that LEC often overbilled the government, thereby, making it difficult for the government to honor the bills.

The official also asked why the LEC failed to remit to the government taxes it was collecting on the purchase of the tokens. In addition to that the cross border power from Ivory Coast is being sold by the LEC, but the Government of Liberia was paying for the power while the LEC was selling the power and using the funds.

Addressing the Liberian media recently at the LEC office in Waterside, CEO Captan said the LEC has connected over 80,000 customers, and despite the limited supply of current during the dry season, the LEC continues to connect more customers. Newly connected communities, he said include Robertsport, Po River, Tubmanburg, communities in Monrovia and Paynesville, as well as RIA and Marshall, to Kakata and Weala.

From ESBI to ALL-Liberian management team

In 2022, ESB International, an Irish-based electricity firm, ended its ten-year management contract with the Liberian Government, paving the way for an all management team headed by Mr. Monie Captan as acting CEO. Captain has played an important role in the restoration of Liberia’s energy sector. He served as CEO of the Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia, the entity that managed the U.S. Millennium Challenge Compact, which ended in 2021. As chairman of the board of LEC, Captan was called up by then President George Weah to serve as acting CEO of LEC following the departure of ESBI. Under his administration, the LEC has seen significant improvement, with the expansion of the energy grid, connection of more households and reduction of power theft.

FPA gathered that Captan and his team outlined the progress of the management team since it took over from ESBI and the efforts that are being applied to meet up with the electricity demand, leaving the committee members impressed.

FPA sources quote the current management team as saying that it did not inherit a single functional generator upon taking over from ESBI at the end of July 2022. However, it has spent US$2 million on repairing four plants and four generators that have boosted electricity supply.

With 28MW available at Bushrod, the Committee was told that the LEC also entered into a power purchase agreement with Côte d’Ivoire. And while 50MW was signed up from Côte d’Ivoire for 2024, it has not been able to get more than 27MW.

With the energy from Mt. Coffee lasting up to about 6 hours daily, and with the increase of 60 percent of the LEC load, management acknowledged that there is still a supply gap, according to inside sources. And the only way to manage the limited supply of electricity is to load shed, something that is not unique to Liberia, as several countries including South Africa, Pakistan, Ghana and even Ivory do as well.

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