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Make power theft a felony-Ashley

Liberian Observer/Maximilian Kasseh, Jr.
LEC's CEO John Ashley
LEC's CEO John Ashley

–LEC loses US$35M yearly to power theft, Gov’t owes US$8.8m


The Chief Executive Officer of the Liberia Electricity Corporation John Ashley says if the Liberian government does not make power theft a felony, the country’s economy will deteriorate, with LEC not been able to make any significant financial input to the economy.

Speaking at LEC Security Department’s certification program yesterday for its employees, who had completed a three-month basic security training to tackle power theft, Ashley said: “the LEC should be the engine for economic growth in Liberia, but this can only happen if the law is changed and enforced by the relevant authority.”

“Power theft is a matter of economic sabotage and it should be taken very seriously by all Liberians and the only way we can contain it is by changing the law to felony,” Ashley observed.

Ashley said the law provides minimum punishment for power theft. “When a person is arrested and charged with power theft, the accused normally by law can pay as little as US$10 for bond, and later that individual goes free.”

The program was organized by the Center for Criminal Justice Research and Education of the Liberia National Law Enforcement Association (LINLEA) and was held at the conference room of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Ashley said the LEC is currently working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to make some amendments on the power theft law by upgrading it from misdemeanor to felony.

He disclosed that since they launched an inspection of communities over power theft, the LEC has managed to disconnect over 1,500 homes in Monrovia.

Earlier, Atty. Abraham Mitchell, Legal Counsel at the Ministry of Justice who served as a guest speaker, reminded his audience that private security, including the LEC, is a corporate partner of the National Security architecture.

He disclosed that his ministry has been in the process to reform and improve private security and performing professional operations in the country.

Describing why the LEC has not been able to live to the expectations of the general public in its distribution of power, he said while power theft causes the corporation US$35 million to power theft yearly, the Liberian government owes US$3.4 million to the LEC and the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) is also indebted to the corporation in the amount of US$2.4 million.

Several communities in Monrovia and its environs, including Caldwell, Jallah Town, Police Academy, and Pipeline have carried out demonstrations against the LEC’s inability to fulfill its promises to extend power in those communities. Ashley yesterday shifted the blame on the government and some of its agencies for not doing much to settle their financial obligations.

Ashley said other agencies of government owed US$3million, totaling US$8.8 million. Lamenting further on his corporation’s inability to provide current to Liberians, Ashley said the refusal of the government to settle its obligation was posing an impediment to the smooth operations of the corporation.

“This is huge money and we do not know when we are going to collect them,” he said.

Cecil Griffiths, director of Center for Criminal Justice Research and Education, said it was time for the government to prioritize training opportunities for private security.

“We have to focus on the training and building the capacity of private security to help in combating the growing threat of terrorism in the world. We have to train them on intelligence sharing,” Griffiths said.

”We have an initial bill that was presented by LINLEA and we have submitted it to the legislature to be enacted into law, to improve the standing of private security as a component of national security,” Mitchell disclosed.

According to Mitchell, the Liberia National Police and other security actors should not be the only service provider of security for public safety and community security.

“Private security, as a component to state security, makes security services accessible to reduce the burden on the state security, in order to provide protection and uphold the rule of law,” Mitchell said.

It can be recalled that in a recent editorial, this newspaper outlined four important issues that are affecting the effective distribution of power to the people.

This newspaper named: weak and underdeveloped enabling environment, weak public utility that is not commercially viable, with high tariff and high commercial losses (power theft), Delayed expansion of transmission and distribution network to evacuate existing generation capacity (which many citizens say is responsible for power theft) and Nascent off-grid sector and finally the revelation that the Liberian government owes close to US$8.8 million.
 

 


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