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21/10/2021 - 16:05
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Press Conference of the Heads of Missions
of the European Union and Member States

Monrovia, 21 October 2021

 

The Minister of Mines & Energy, the Honourable Gesler E. Murray,

The Deputy Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, the Honourable Jarlawah A. Tonpo,

Your Excellency the Ambassador of France to Liberia,

The Chargé d’affaires of Ireland,

The Deputy Ambassador of Germany,

Ladies and Gentlemen representing the Media,

 

I want to thank the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism for welcoming us today in the premises used by the Government of Liberia for its weekly media briefing. It is an honour for us, representatives of the European Union and its Member States in Liberia, to be invited to benefit from this widely covered media spot of Thursday morning.

I am deeply grateful to the Honourable Minister of Mines & Energy for arranging this joint press conference today with the European Union and its Member States. I am joined today by my colleagues Ambassador Michaël Roux of France, Chargée d’Affaires Kate O’Donnell of Ireland, Deputy Ambassador Peter Speyrer of Germany.

The purpose of this exchange of the European Heads of Missions with the media today is to echo and follow-up on the message issued on 26 August by my colleague and friend the US Ambassador, His Excellency Michael  McCarthy.

1. The Donor community has been following the situation of the energy sector in Liberia with great interest and also with great concern.

From 1990 to Christmas 2016, Liberians experienced a quarter of a century with no electricity, apart from the few who could afford generators. The existing power infrastructure was wiped out during the civil war. Once peace returned, hundreds of millions of dollars from Europe, the United States and other donor institutions and countries have been spent in Liberia to rebuild the energy sector and to benefit the Liberian people. The Bushrod Island fuel and gas plants, the Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant, the ongoing transmission and distribution developments have all relied and continue to rely on quasi exclusive international funding, on foreign taxpayer money.

Today, the focus is not on the increase of generation capacity, I will come back to it.

The priority for the short term is, first, on developing and making full use of the transmission networks, both nationally and throughout the region with the CLSG power line that connects Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinée. It is necessary to accelerate the connection of communities and large users to the CLSG transmission line to take full advantage of this strategic asset for the country to expand delivery of electricity to all Liberians and increase revenues of LEC.

The priority is also, and mostly, on extending distribution, since 88% of Liberians today are not connected to the grid. Distribution projects financed by the European Union and the World Bank will soon allow the connection of a more than 200,000 households around Greater Monrovia, twice the number of a year ago. Since 2008, the European Union has contributed close to 140 million US dollars in grants to the Government of Liberia for power distribution. The EU is currently connecting 38,000 customers in the capital city under the Monrovia Consolidation of Electricity project and on March 5th this year, I had the honour and the pleasure to join His Excellency President George Manneh Weah in connecting the Peace Island community to the grid. Other projects from the European Union to deliver electricity to the people of Liberia are in the pipeline, in Buchanan and in some rural communities.

Regarding generation too, plans are in the making to bring the installed capacity in Liberia from 126 Megawatts today (88 megawatt at Mount Coffee, 38 at Bushrod Island), to over 400 Megawatts in the not too distant future. This will involve adding new hydropower units at Mount Coffee, developing solar farms and possibly, but in a more distant future, developing new hydropower capacities on Saint Paul’s River. For these projects to materialize, Liberia will need to leverage private investments and only a transparent and competitive bidding process can ensure that qualified contractors are selected who can help Liberia get affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, addressing the electricity challenge in Liberia is a joint exercise. The Government of Liberia, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), the people of Liberia and the international donor community all need to work together to address this urgent challenge. In this context, we commend the recent appointment of Mr Monie Captan as Chairman of the Board of LEC and the Board’s decisive action against power theft, as outlined in the press statement from LEC of 15 September 2021.

We are calling Liberia to define, under the leadership of His Excellency President George Manneh Weah and the Honorable Minister of Mines and Energy, a master plan for the development of its power sector. This has to include :

- new generation capacities to meet the expected increase in power consumption,

- ambitious use of Liberia’s assets for renewable energy such as hydro and solar power,

- sustainable participation to the regional network offered by the CSLG line,

- strengthening of the client base through the connection of more Liberian businesses,

- delivery of power to many many more Liberian households and families,

- and bringing the tariff of electricity, which is exceptionally high in Liberia, to levels more affordable for ordinary Liberian families.

The international partners and friends of Liberia call on the Government of Liberia for clarity on its strategy for the electricity sector, for vision on “powering Liberia to empower Liberians”.

2. Two months ago on the 26th of August, my colleague the US Ambassador Michael McCarthy voiced his concern on the high levels of power theft in Liberia.

Together, we had visited that morning the Bushrod Island fuel and gas power generation facilities. Let me underline that I agree one hundred percent with every word of Ambassador McCarthy’s statement. I am also happy to see that his clear message got across. Today’s press conference allows us to jointly take stock of measures taken against power theft and to highlight the remaining challenges that need be addressed.

As outlined by the American Ambassador, over half of the electricity produced by LEC is either stolen or unpaid for. If you add to that the power that is lost during transport for technical reasons, less than a third of the electricity produced by LEC is paid for. The consequence is that the tariff for electricity remains high and the many honest Liberians who pay their bills have to pay an even higher price because theft reduces the revenues of the power utility : honest Liberians have to pay for those who steal, and that is by no means fair. Tampering with the power installations is dangerous : it overcharges the network, which may result in fire or even explosions, putting human lives at risk in the community. Illegal connections damage the network and inflict additional maintenance costs to LEC.

The more power is stolen from LEC, the less capacity LEC has to extend the network and bring power to more Liberian families.

This cannot continue as it is seriously threatening the financial viability of the operator. Losing close to 50 million US dollars annually is certainly a cause for very serious concern. Illegal connections, tampering with meters, theft of assets including light poles, wires, and transformers must stop immediately.

Power theft also affects confidence from potential investors and partners around the world. How can you convince international donors and private companies to invest in the electricity sector when more than half of the output is lost or stolen? Power theft has consequences beyond the power sector, it affects Liberia as a place of doing business.

3. I know that the Government of Liberia is fully aware of the situation and addressing the challenge very seriously.

I want to thank, also on behalf of my colleagues from the Member States of the European Union, the Government and the People of Liberia for the progress made in the last few weeks on Electricity. I am especially encouraged by the strong commitment from the highest political level, of which our joint exercise today with Minister Murray is a testimony.

Two years ago, special legislation was adopted to criminalize power theft, through the Power Theft Act of 2019, a most welcome step forward. Despite enormous efforts by the Revenue Protection Team of LEC, none of the power theft cases currently in the judicial system has yet been brought to a successful conclusion. But a more resolute implementation of the Act has been observed recently. I am especially thinking of the recent arrest and prosecution of individuals involved with power theft and the strong proclamations of LEC against power theft. LEC staff caught tampering with equipment face strong and immediate disciplinary action and prosecution. As the Minister has just announced, the establishment of a special fast-track power theft court with the appointment by the Judiciary of specialized judges and prosecutors is a major breakthrough. The EU and its Member States encourage the Government of Liberia to make this happen fast.

All these measures are most welcome, but further action from all stakeholders is necessary and we will continue monitoring progress. Combating power theft is the responsibility of everyone because its consequences affect everyone. Nobody, however powerful, however influential, however connected, should be spared if they commit, protect or benefit from power theft.

Honourable Minister, Ladies and Gentleman,

Today, I cannot over-emphasise that the European Union and its Member States are highly committed to the successful performance and development of the electricity sector in Liberia. A steady and reliable power supply is essential for the Liberian people and economy.  “Powering Liberia to empower Liberians”.

However, and I must insist again, in order to realise that goal, everyone must pay for the electricity they use.  Power theft is crippling LEC. It is anti-poor and it is a threat to the implementation of the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. It must stop, now.

No free current, No seh pay for current, current da na free

I thank you for your attention. Please let me pass the floor to my colleagues if they want to add something, before we take questions./.

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