10 March 2017

Liberia: Senate - LEC Should Embrace Private Investment, Joint Ventures

The Senate Joint Committee on Lands Mines, Energy, Natural Resources & Environment and Public Corporations has recommended that the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) embrace and aggressively work on programs for private investment, joint ventures and other forms of public-private partnership in the electricity sector, especially in power distribution.

The joint committee's recommendation was contained in a 5-page report presented to the Senate Plenary on Tuesday during its 17th day sitting. The Senate, on February 17, 2017, mandated the Standing Committees to investigate several issues involving the operations of the LEC.

In the report, the committee recommended that the Government should create the opportunity where local businesses can obtain finance to invest in power distribution; "that each government entity should pay its electricity bill directly and timely to the LEC instead of centralizing payment at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning."

The joint committee, headed by Senators J. Gbleh-Bo Brown and Albert Tugbe Chie, further recommended that the management of the LEC strengthens its internal system, improve service delivery and recruit trained technicians, including former employees, "in addition to the judicial process to successfully combat power theft."

The leadership of the Senate committee recommended, "should hold discussions with the President of Liberia on the value of a new management contract for the LEC, if it is necessary, and how it can be best crafted to induce private sector investment, convey the ideals of the Liberianization Policy and Labor Practices of Liberia, transfer of technology, emphasis on training and manpower development, preservation of our dignity and respond to the good will of donors in the electricity sector."

The committee concluded by recommending an audit of the LEC and the entire electricity sector.

The committee also asserted that Liberians are yearning to pay for electricity service, "in the same way they are paying for telecommunications services, but they want an efficient service. An economically-challenged LEC by itself cannot provide the services even with donor support. "

It may be recalled that during a recent public hearing the new Management Team of the LEC, headed by Mr. Foday Sackor which has been in place for less than 60 days, told the joint committee that it met the LEC in "a state of mess" and has been working hard to restore credibility to the entity to make it functional.

The managing director admitted during the hearing that most of the concerns and allegations of the public as raised, such as the slow pace of customer connection, frequent power outages, power fluctuations, slow responses to customers calls, high tariffs, etc.; are true and put the blame on the previous management, including non-performance of the Canada-based Manitoba Hydro International Limited (MHI), which had management contract with the LEC, the last six years.

Meanwhile, the Plenary at its 18th day sitting yesterday, following a lengthy debate, welcomed the recommendations and urged the committee to continue its work on the LEC, especially in areas that have to do with loans and grants, amounting to US$800 million that have been received by government over the last 12 years for the restoration of electricity.

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