Monrovia — FrontPageAfrica has reliably gathered that an operation intended to combat against power theft and raise needed revenue for the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) has affected the Speaker of the House of Representatives Bhofal Chambers and several others in the Rehab Community in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.
Created in 1973, the LEC is a public utility primarily founded by an act of Legislature to produce and supply economic and reliable electric power to the entire nation, while at the same time maintaining the corporation financial viability.
Intrinsic in this mandate is the responsibility for improving and expanding the system to meet future growth. LEC therefore obtains the responsibility of ensuring that efficient, reliable and affordable electric power is available, not only to meet the increasing demand for electric energy in Liberia, but also to serve as a catalyst for socio- economic development.
However, the corporation continues to struggle to effectively and efficiently carry out its statutory task and responsibilities due to limited logistical, financial and technical supports as we as power theft.
In a bid to address the situation, the government on November 9, established the LEC Anti-Power Theft Taskforce to combat against the unlawful supply and connections of electricity in the capital.
The Taskforce is Co-Chair by Madam Broh. Her workaholic spirit and zest to "strengthen up things" when she served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) as Director and Mayor respectively, gained her favor among the citizenry, immediate past and current governments and a nickname "General Broh."
LEC's Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Monie Captan disclosed at the launch that the corporation is losing US$48 Million annually to power theft.
According to him, the loss is nearly 50% of what is being generated by the entity every year.
In keeping with her mandate, Madam Broh has been leading the team in various communities, disconnecting and levying fines on individuals and businesses that are illegally connected or "by passing" meters issued them.
On Saturday, November 19, the Taskforce intensified its operations in the Rehab Community in Paynesville, outside Monrovia, disconnecting homes, businesses including stores and hotels for being illegally connected directly, without using any meters.
The Rehab Community is also hosting the home of President George Manneh Weah.
Adolphus Scott, one of the leaders of the Taskforce, reported that about 105 structures including two hotels, 83 households, and 22 businesses were illegally connected "on direct."
Connection on direct means the "by-passing" of LEC distributed meters by customers to either not pay electricity bills at all, or pay less for huge energy supply being used at their various facilities.
The homes of Speaker Chambers and Unity Party Chairman Luther Tarpeh were reported to be among the 83 households that were disconnected.
He also pointed out that a full-two phase arrangement on direct with large consumption was also noticed and disconnected by the team.
The Taskforce took less than 48 hours to disconnect the 105 homes and businesses in the Rehab Community.
Scott warned residents of the 52 communities across Montserrado, particularly those residing around the Monrovia Consolidation System (MCS) or grids networks, to avoid giving money to LEC workers or others roaming around on motorbikes to rally and encourage them to pay for electricity or meters.
He said the Taskforce offices in Duport Road and Waterside respectively are the only places where monies are being collected for the connection of households and businesses.
"If you do not pay at Duport Road Baptist Field or Waterside, any money you will be giving, you will be giving at your own risk," Scott noted.
He stated that those who have already paid for electricity and are yet to be connected should visit the Taskforce offices, instead of illegally connecting direct.
Scott emphasized that the Taskforce, through Madam Broh will "fast track" the process to ensure that those who have already paid or want to get electricity are connected in a timely manner.
"If you have issues, come and discuss it and don't want the team to come at the last minute and you want a solution."
At some of the areas disconnected, meters were tampered with making it difficult to function properly or show the total usage of electricity.
Madam Broh disclosed that those who were disconnected will have to come back to the corporation to be reconnected.
She said the Taskforce will continue to work and respect everyone regardless of status, but those showing disrespect and lack of cooperation will be penalized by the law.
"Those who come after us will pay the price; they will go to jail."
Wires and others used to illegally connect these businesses and homes are being confiscated by the Taskforce.
The huge quantities of wires confiscated are transported to the substations of the LEC on several trips due to the low capacity of the pickups being used by the entity.
Three pickups full of high-tension wires were seized from Rehab Community alone during the operations over the weekend.
Few individuals are being apprehended for alleged "misbehavior and reconnecting homes and businesses" after they were previously disconnected by the Taskforce.
Those taking hold of deadly weapons to attack members of the Taskforce are restrained and cuffed.
Madam Broh vowed to ensure the incarceration of those hindering the work of the team during its operations in the various communities.
Disconnecting churches, Pastors
Speaking further, Madam Broh disclosed that since she took up the mandate, she and her team have disconnected several churches and homes of Pastors.
She vowed not to relent to continue to ensure that religious institutions abide by the mandate to legally obtain their meters to get connected to the grids.
"I have disconnected pastors and churches because they are not doing the right thing. For those of you who are prayer people, you have to do the right thing by yourself because it saves you at the end of the day."
Madam Broh observed that among those "bypassing" meters and disconnected are eminent citizens including lawmakers and other public officials, doctors, and lawyers.
She, however, felt short to state the name of a particular person.
"We disconnected 103 houses yesterday in Rehab and some of them were my friends; some of them lawmakers' lawyers and doctors; they are there. You say you went to school and you go there to do the right thing; you making money then you want by-pass current especially when you are a lawmaker, doctor and lawyer."
She added that despite cracking jokes with some of these officials who normally show up to be reconnected after their lines were taken down by the Taskforce, these public officials are also made to pay fines.
"You will stand right there to pay your fine. If you are a government official, I don't care because we have to do the right thing. Some people have 17 apartments and they are stealing current."
Madam Broh emphasized that though she will not signal out or name anyone involved in power theft, perpetrators of the act should desist from "bypassing" meters that will be issued to them.
In a telephone conversation with FrontPage Africa on Sunday, November 20, Madam Broh warned against the politicizing of the workings of the Taskforce.
"You stealing current when I go talk about it, you go politicize it. That's what they have been doing. They tried to gain relevance and I don't like that."
She said it does not make sense for foreigners and others to hold press conferences against her for checkmating and bringing them to book for being involved in power theft.
Madam Broh vowed to continue to carry on her mandate without fear or favor.
"I issued you notice right there and disconnect you. We disconnected over 200 businesses and households in the past two days in Rehab alone. This is a routine service we are doing but equally so, we have to reconnect people when they paid their fines."
Fine notices are issued to households and businesses that are illegally connected.
The amounts of US$100 to US$1000 are being charged as fines depending on the usage of the electricity.
Madam Broh disclosed that those "by passing meters for the second time" after being reconnected will be incarcerated by the Taskforce.
She used this medium to encourage Liberians to be patriotic and respectful to one another.
No friends, relatives
"I don't have friends or relatives in my workplace. I don't hire them," Madam Broh stated.
She said her tasks and responsibilities will be implemented not to "show out", but to help generate lawful revenue for the government.
She attributed the increase in power theft to the high level of frustration among the citizens, due to the failure of the LEC to initially reach its customers in a timely manner.
Madam Broh said despite the situation, citizens do not have the right to steal electricity a result of the delay.
"People have been bringing letters they wrote and so, we are trying to correct the wrongs."
She, however, recounted the tedious task associated with the disconnection of homes, businesses and others that are illegally connected to the LEC grids.
She referred to technicians and electricians of the Taskforce as the "heroes" in the combat against power theft, adding, "I want to say to you, continue the good work that you are doing and you will be rewarded."
"I like to thank the management team of the LEC and the GSA at this time for the fantastic work that you have been doing since we started. It is very difficult to go on the pole to search and remove wires.
When contacted, Speaker Chambers refused to respond to a WhatsApp message sent on Sunday.
Chairman Tarpeh couldn't be reached for comments on the matter.
Why power theft on the increase?
The failure of LEC authorities to act swiftly in providing meters to customers continues to contribute to the increase in power theft in Liberia.
The replacement of damaged transformers in a timely manner is also an age-old problem confronting the agency.
Most often, residents of many communities are constrained to collect funds to either get connected to electric grids or have their meters replaced.
The prolonged delay by the LEC to attend to these customers compelled them to illegally get connected with their friends, relatives, or neighbors who have access to electricity.
The lack of trust and confidence in the corporation to swiftly respond when funds are paid continues to frustrate customers who are eager to have electricity in their homes or business centers. The move continues to overload and damage transformers in most communities in Monrovia and other areas.
The citizens feel suspicious and skeptical about also giving their monies to their community leaders to pay for new meters or transformers to be reconnected.
At times, they accused their local leaders of allegedly conniving with some workers of the LEC to rob them of their hard-earned monies.
Since the commencement of its operations, more than 600 homes and businesses have been disconnected by the task force.
Business owners and other customers have been trooping in to legally obtain their meters and get connected. However, "direct connection" to discourage customers from paying legitimate electricity bills remains the order of the day in the post-conflict nation.
Bad apples in LEC
Mr. Captan has admitted that some "bad apples" are within the LEC.
"We have bad apples at LEC... and we need to strengthen and clean it up, okay? So, I am not going to say we are perfect, but I need you to work with me,"
He added, "When there is no transformer, there will be no power theft anyway. We all need to work together. Without electricity, there can never be development. This economy in our country will not go anywhere if we don't have electricity, and to show that LEC is successful, we want to work with the community to make sure that we become successful. Now, when we launch this program and start to go to various communities, we need the cooperation of everyone here.
"We have thousands of meters here with us," he continued. "So, when we get to your community, do not be afraid; come to us and tell us, 'I don't have a meter; we will register you right there and connect you."
Captan told the gathering that LEC is there to solve problems, but needs the help of community dwellers.