FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

3 March 2014

Liberia: Monrovia Still Dark Despite Claims of Increase in Connections

Despite the Government of Liberia's consistent promise of increasing access to the Liberia Electricity Corporation's powerhouse for many poor communities in Monrovia and its environs, the city continues to be in darkness.

Throughout the weekend the city was dark and its only led drivers to brighten their headlights which many times lead to trouble for the other drivers on the opposite lane.

Last Thursday, the Minister of Lands Mines and Energy told journalists that the LEC is faced with a menace that it is trying to control but adds that it remains the major problem for a government's electrification drive.

"One of the key challenges we face in trying to connect people is that of all the power that the LEC generates, not less than 20% is lost due to theft, that's like about 20,000 connections that we cannot make because the power is being stolen," said Minister Sendolo.

"It is robbing everybody not of connections, but also affects the cost of electricity because that power is going for free; that power LEC will not get money from and therefore you will not see the reduction in your tariffs that we are all trying to achieve."

LEC itself recently issued an appeal to Liberians to help the entity in the fight against power theft. The entity said despite repeated pleas to residents of Monrovia and its environs for them to report power theft or not to engage in the act, some unscrupulous individuals in the society have ignored the calls and are still stealing electricity by bypassing the meters or climbing the poles.

"This has contributed to the damages to its transformers and other facilities as well as the number of power outages being experienced mainly in Monrovia and its environs," stated the LEC in a press statement.

In January, a man believed to be in his 20's was electrocuted on an LEC pole in New Kru Town after he attempted to steal power in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The LEC, said that the incident took place barely 24 hours after the company's power theft crew had removed 42 meters from New Kru Town, which had been tampered with by the power criminals. The company also noted that power theft accounts for 27 percent of revenue losses the company incurs monthly.

Fulfilling the President's mandate

Minister Sendolo said in an effort to meet the Presidential mandate given the LEC to connect at least a thousand homes a month, the company has made huge strides in that direction.

"In December, the government connected 10018 customers, in January we connected 1,594 customers and as of the 25th of February, we connected 930 customers and we expect that number to increase to about a thousand by the time this month ends," he said on Thursday, when he addressed the Ministry of Information daily press briefing.

He named areas that have been connected since the mandate was issued as part of the 21 communities, connections plan by the entity as Soniwein, JFK beach community, Rototown, Gbangaytown, St. Paul's Bridge, Logan Town, Doe Community, Vai Town, Fiama, 12th Street, Saye Town, Jallah Town, Bassa Community, Duport Road, Point Four, Clara Town, Slipway, Buzzy Quarter, New Kru Town and West Point.

"Those are some of the areas that connections have been made and of course, we've made some connections in some of the new areas that we started constructing power lines such as the rehab community, Zubah town, ELWA road etc. Basically, we are generally on top, but this is not a reason to celebrate because for us this is not really what we want," he said.

"We've achieved for being on top, but we want to do 2,000 to 3,000, so we all need to put together our collective efforts to ensure that this thing surpasses the 1,000 connections."

Mr. Sendolo said that there are complaints by residents of these areas that they are faced with difficulties in getting the LEC to reach them despite following all the procedures, to this he said the government has introduced a plan to remedy the situation.

"In this respect, even as the connections have been going on, the complaints persist. One of the most important complaints from my standpoint- people have come and said that, look, we've gone to LEC, we've registered, paid and it's been three months, five months and we haven't gotten it," he said.

He said the complaint was of particular concern to the government, adding: "we've committed to a certain process and said, once you go through this process, within a minimum of two weeks, you should be connected."

Continued Mr. Sendolo: "We've launched what we are calling the electricity Access Support Network (EASE), what this basically is, it is a unit that would hope to have lines that are open to the public, where someone, who goes to LEC and registers and pays, to get connected and is not getting connected, can call that office and that office will serve as almost their lawyers and take their case to LEC."

The Minister said customers feeling aggrieved are free to call the following hotline numbers to seek redress:

0886048636, 0886048637, 0777533594, 0777533595

Company Subject of Vehicle Rental in Voter Roll Set Record Straight

Monrovia- The Liberian business sector is largely dominated by foreign merchants, including predominantly Lebanese, Nigerians and other foreigners as local Liberians suffer from a popular myth that they are unable to manage business and perform to expectation of clients.

Some believe that Liberians lack the requisite managerial skills to effectively control human resources and implement complex contracts that entail dealing with equipment and managing a large number of people.

As a reference point many Liberians owed businesses including commercial banks, construction companies, amongst others poorly performed in the past further justifying the ugly perception against Liberians doing business.

In time past, this has largely led to the Government and other nongovernmental organizations preferring giving contract for the provision of goods and services to non Liberians businesses but there are a few Liberian owned establishments that are endeavoring to prove that to the contrary of belief that Liberians cannot perform, time has changed the trend of events and current realities are different from the age old.

Currently, a Liberian owned establishment involved in procurement and fleet management was contracted by the National Elections Commission of Liberia to manage logistics mainly vehicles in the ongoing voter roll update exercise in preparation for the holding of October 4 midterm senatorial elections across the length and breadth of Liberia.

Amid the difficult terrain characterized by deplorable roads, lack of services such as maintenance centers in other parts of the country, Efficient Logistic Services 100 percent Liberian owned has so far lived to the expectation of the National Elections Commission as indicated by NEC Commissioner with Oversight Responsibilities of Communications, Davidetta Browne Lansanah that the ongoing exercise is on course with no bottlenecks along the way since the process commenced over a month ago.A statement from NEC disclosed that there has been no problem related to logistics.

"She noted that since the start of the exercise, there has been no report of problems related to logistics and Voter Roll Update staff movement, except for the case involving 16 Ivorian Refugees who were detected by Voter Roll Update staff in the Cavalla Administrative District of Grand Gedeh County while attempting to register for inclusion on the Voter Roll", a NEC statement noted.

Electoral supervisor and other elections contractors working on the voter roll update exercise have also expressed satisfaction over the performance of the Efficient Logistic Services in the provision of transport services.

Dave Harris, Election Supervisor for Team K in Montserrado County told FrontPageAfrica at one of the Centers in the Police Academy suburb of Monrovia logistics so far in terms of transportation has been excellent.

"Not much of a difficulty, the team has a car assigned and it is always with us, no breakdown and the driver is always ready to move from here there to get materials when we go out of materials. So far so good, transportation is excellent, we do not have problem", Harris told FrontPageAfrica.

Dave says the ongoing voter roll update has not experienced any delay based on transportation constraints and he is confident that his team will cover all 11 centers in line with the stated timeframe for the exercise.

The Caver Mission Academy, Dave said is one of the centers his team recorded the highest turn out so far where 196 persons turning out for the exercise indicating at the Police Academy center has so far for two days recorded low turnout.

Zaza F. Massaquoi, of Team F stationed at the Seat of Wisdom International School System in the 72nd Community in Paynesville on Saturday also praised the performance of the transport service provider.

Massaquoi said "In the car we are using, actually it has never broken down, we moving smoothly".

"You see, our car parked there, anytime we want something we just call the driver and he is ready to go, the car is ok and we have no problem with transportation, no breakdown yet", Massaquoi noted.

At the St. Francis High School in Jacob Town, Massaquoi disclosed that his team recorded the highest turn out with 163 persons.

At the SD Cooper Road Center in Paynesville, NEC workers also praised the performance of the transportation team indicating that there has been no problem so far in the movement of the team from one center to another. ]Team M stationed opposite the Gold Key Hotel also in Paynesville on Saturday also said all is on course as the transportation is excellent.

At various other centers, including the Paynesville Community School, Paynesville Town Hall and several others visited, the expressions were the same regarding the transportation arrangement in place.

It's about empowering locals

The provision of transport services to the National Elections Commission for the Exercise is being undertaken by Efficient Logistic Services. Reuben M. Carto, General Manager and partner of the company has attributed the success of the services so far to planning and the company's desire to empower Liberians.

Carto says the company is using the ongoing vehicle rental services to NEC to empower Liberians by renting vehicles owned by these Liberians in the various districts across the country.

"We have 150 family heads benefiting from this contract, so if you look at the fleet of cars carrying on this exercise, you go to Masabolahun, Harper, Barclayville, Sinoe, we rented cars from people in these areas," Carto said.

In fact, in the interior we rented cars from the districts for example, we will go to Foyah and rent car from Foyah to be used in Foya District, we go to Gbarpolu, we go to Bopolu and rent cars from there so that we can be able to impact the economy, the local economy, our indigenous are benefiting."

Currently, Efficient Logistic he said is renting 200 vehicles and 25 trucks to the NEC in the process, paying per diem for the drivers, insurance of the vehicles, providing petroleum, maintenance of the vehicles, amongst other cost.

"This company, like any other company in Liberia does not have 200 car parking in the parking lot, no company in Liberia has that capability and capacity, what we did was to rent 50 vehicles from ourself and we awarded renting contract for 150 vehicles to 150 family heads around Liberia. Now you check that out and see how many people are benefiting from this process".

Carto continued: "We could have gone to our sister companies to rent a car from them and that money could have only been amongst business people, but we choose to go and rent from the locals to help them. We decided to go to 150 family heads around Liberia so that when that money comes it can spread in the economy".

Envy and politics hamper Liberian businesses

Carto says the business climate is not very conducive for Liberians because there is too much bureaucracy, politics and envy against Liberian owned businesses.

"They say Liberians are not good at doing business that is not true, it is because there is too much bureaucracy, politics and envy amongst Liberians so sometimes that is why we stay with the NGOs. You get a contract and bring other Liberians to benefit so that we can build the economy, you perform to expectation or even beyond yet our own Liberians say no, they prefer a foreign company either a Ghanaian, Nigerian or Lebanese because we are supposed to build Beirut".

The company, he disclosed is facing numerous challenges, including bad roads, the workload where there are 4640 centers to be visited four times a day. "So 200 cars have to visit these centers, 4 days to a center, the 200 cars are not enough if you divide 4640 by 200 by 45 days, we will need 250 vehicles, but because of our professional performance we were asked to see how we can work up to 9 pm to cover all centers".

Who are they?

Efficient Logistic, the General manager said started as small company renting vehicles and trucks back in the days to nongovernmental organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, Christian Children Fund, amongst others.

For over eight years the General manger disclosed that the company has been providing quality services to the NGOs community, the private sector as well as government.

"We started during the emergency relief period, from renting one truck to where we are today. Our major strength is providing logistics support to nongovernmental organizations, for the past five years we had contracts with UNICEF, WHO, WFP, LTTP, USAID and others international NGOs", said Carto.

He furthered: "We have rendered support to GOL in procurement, we have procured over 100 brand new vehicles for the Government of Liberia, we also do business with the general public".The company he noted has history of providing services to the NEC as has been done over the past years including the processes leading to the 2011 elections.

"I put you few years back Efficient Logistic Services won a bid from UNDP during the 2011 national election and this company provided logistic support for NEC for voter registration, exhibition, referendum, national election first round and run-off, so we are not new to the NEC".

Currently, he said the company has 58 Liberians in its employ.

Amongst some of the losses, Carto said the company two years ago purchased a bus for the General Services Agency which is yet to be paid for.

"For two years GSA has not paid for a bus we bought for them, Pearsin ordered the bus without budgetary allocation and Director General Mary Broh has to put stay order on the use of the bus.

The bus toady cannot be paid for because there is no money to pay for it, we do not have anyone big in Government to run after that for us".

Why NEC opted to rent Cars?

While the voter update exercise is ongoing, a member of the House of Representatives, James Binney (Maryland County, NPP) last week wrote the plenary of the House of Representatives questioning what he termed wasteful spending by NEC for renting vehicles to carry out the exercise.

Frontpageafrica has been gathered from credible sources within NEC that the commission considered four options before taking the decision to rent the 200 vehicles from Efficient Logistic amongst them-taking 200 vehicles from other government agencies, buying 200 vehicles, mixed model (buy some, rent some) and renting 200 vehicles.

Under the first option, taking 200 vehicles from other government agencies to be used, the NEC is said to have analyzed that such framework does not exist at the commission and could have moreover taken a considerable period of time for government to implement such program, thereby affecting the timeframe for the voter roll update which could affect the timing of the pending senatorial election.

The option of buying 200 vehicles for the exercise, an insider at NEC indicated that NEC considered such option as not feasible because it would have cost the commission US$6 m to buy 200 vehicles at the conservative price of US$30,000 per unit as such amount was not budgeted by the commission. NEC is believed to have rejected the option to buy 200 vehicles because such number of vehicles are not needed for the normal operations of the commission and could not be bought for 45 days exercise.

Also accordingly, NEC could not make up with the cost of hiring 200 drivers, paying them per diems, buying petroleum and other overhead cost out of the budgeted amount for the voter update exercise.

Another option of mixed model buys some and rent some, a source stated NEC could not accept such because the Commission could seemingly use US$ 1m to buy 33 vehicles and US$900,000 to rent 100 vehicles for 45 days which could have resulted to a shortfall of 67 vehicles to complete the required fleet for the process or the commission could require US$603,000 to rent or US$2m to purchase additional 67 vehicles.

A source at NEC hinted that the Commission considered renting the 200 required vehicles for the exercise because of cost effectiveness as the rental service allowed the commission to outsource all costs, including the maintenance of vehicles, fuel, hiring of drivers and security for personnel and materials on-board rented vehicles and as a result the commission entered a contract for US$1.9 million, thereby saving the government from spending US$4.9 million more.

A NEC source hinted that the commission has in its budget US$1. 9 million for the voter update logistics and the commission requires 200 vehicles to complete the task in time for the conduct of the October 14 special election and such amount could not be used to procure 200 vehicles as needed by the commission for the update project which could cost about US$6million to purchase durable vehicles or US$ 4 million for low quality vehicles.

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