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24.05.2019 Feature Article

Electricity Theft: Must MPs Intercede Or Mediate?

Electricity Theft: Must MPs Intercede Or Mediate?

MPs (Members of Parliament) exude huge influence in societies across the world, especially in Africa.

They help settle disputes in society and grace high-profile functions or ceremonies-- in Churches, Mosques, Synagogues at durbars, funeral grounds, etc.

In fact, some of them even have had the chance to use the bully pulpit.

MPs are also called legislators or lawmakers. And as the name suggests they write and pass laws. They're usually politicians and are often elected by the people of the state.

Please take note, I said they're politicians and politicians are well-known for their humongous promises.

The Ghanaian MP carries huge responsibilities some of them are self-inflicted. Legislators in Ghana, can be likened to Father Christmas, known for their benevolent acts--- showering constituents with gifts, paying school fees for their wards, buying them roofing sheets and outboard motors, footing their medical bills, utility bills, phone bills, and giving them 'chop money', and the list goes on.

It seems MPs are overburdened.

The pressure they face on a daily basis is enormous. But most of them invited this 'Wahala'hence, they've to deal with it.

During the 2016 General Election campaign we witnessed some politicians braiding hairs, pounding fufu and preparing Banku, amid hordes of promises:

The hilarious ones grabbed the headlines and flooded the airwaves immediately. And over the last two years, they've been part and parcel of our body-politic.

Like the 'One Village One Dam' project by the ruling NPP and the 'One House One Meter" by the opposition NDC. By the way, this one is for adoption: "One Town One Million Pound."

Interestingly, the people have bought into these incredulous promises.

And what's been the upshot?

They have birthed-indiscipline.

And we've been witnessing indiscipline on our roads/streets, indiscipline in our theatres and pubs, indiscipline in our schools and churches, indiscipline almost everywhere.

Rampart attacks on employees of Power Distribution Service Limited (PDS) in recent times speaks volumes. Not long ago, at Kokrobite or around that neighborhood a PDS staff was brutally assaulted. And there had been similar attacks elsewhere across the country.

The most recent attack on PDS employees occurred on Wednesday 22 May 2019 in Odumase-Krobo in the Eastern region.

Roads were blocked, tyres were burnt and stones were hurled at police and PDS officials for cracking down on electricity theft in a suburb called Yohe.

But must MPs intervene on behalf of Power thieves?

Is it prudent for the lawmakers to support their constituents who break the laws and connect power illegally?

The NDC Member of Parliament for Lower Manya Krobo Constituency Ebenezer Oklitey Teye Larbi doesn't seem to understand why Power Distribution Service Limited (PDS) carried out its crackdown exercise on illegal power connection in his area.

It is understood the MP had prevailed upon Utilities & Regulatory Commission (PURC) and PDS to suspend the exercise for a couple of days as efforts were being made to find a lasting solution to the problem.

But on Wednesday 22 May, PDS resumed their mass power disconnection exercise, sparking pandemonium.

Mr. Teye Larbi, however, fell short to tell Ghanaians what kind of solution he'd under his sleeves for PURC including customers who pay their bills regularly.

Was the MP going to pay off the bills before the two-day grace period?

How does he expect the utility companies to make money and keep their services running without interruption?

And I think it's about time some of these MPs stopped this kind of mediation or intervention role they've taken upon themselves. This is an unnecessary intervention. It tends to condone fraud and it doesn't bode well for economic development.

Continental problem

Electricity fraud or illegal power connection has become a huge problem for most African countries.

Neighbouring Liberia began a crackdown on illegal power connection this year.

According to Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) about 60 percent of its annual output is being stolen.

The situation isn't different in down south and eastern parts of Africa, where the canker is said to be biting nations like South Africa and Kenya.

For instance, it's reported that illegal power connections cost the City of Johannesburg, South Africa millions of rands every year.

In Ghana, the clampdown on illegal power connection has been going on for decades.

And even though the problem is pervasive in Africa, it also exists in countries such as the United States of America, and other parts of Europe.

What's an illegal power connection?

And what are the threats it poses to society?

​Electricity connection is considered illegal when it's sourced from a power distributing company's network without the service provider's permission.

Energy experts say this act poses huge risk due to the pressure (overload) it brings to bear on the system, which often causes the power connection to trip.

And I think stealing electricity should be a serious safety concern for the public, the utility company employees as well as government agencies. Illegal power connections

raise the cost of electricity for all customers. And they're the leading cause of unplanned power outages, according to energy chieftains.

In view of this, electricity theft must not be condoned in any way whatsoever. Be reminded it's wrong to tamper meters, wrong to turn electricity back on illegally, and wrong to connect power illegally for one's consumption without the authorization by the power provider.

Penalty

Also, I think offenders must be severely punished and made to pay hefty penalties to deter those that engage in the unholy practice.

Who would allow another to use his/her services without paying for it?

Typically, that was what happened in Odumase-Krobo. And let's not politicize it.

Let's hold the bull by the horn

The solution to the problem isn't buying out time in the hope that the service provider would abate its clampdown operation.

That's a knee-jerk solution.

And then what happens?

Backlog of arrears, power outages, power trips, or no power at all. And then the same people who stole the power and helped them to connect power illegally, would turn around and blame PDS, ECG, PURC, and government for doing nothing.

The Indiscipline

On Wednesday 22, 2019 at about 10:00 GMT, PDS officials of the Krobo district switched off the main transformer at Yohe over the locals’ refusal to pay their bills, according to police reports.

The action by the power authority would in no time spark agitation. The irate youth barricaded the road with cement blocks and set tyres on fire to prevent the PDS officials and the police from carrying out the exercise.

It is understood, eventually, the transformer was switched back on and the blockade was also cleared. However, the angry youth didn't stop their unruly behaviour. They pelted the team with stones from their hideout, smashing the windscreen of their vehicle.

Some local media reported that stray bullets fired by the police in self-defense, hit nine persons, injuring several others.

Speaking to the media Mr. Teye Larbi, however, claimed four people died from the stray bullets.I must note, that claim remains unconfirmed.

Gordon Offin-Amaniampong
Gordon Offin-Amaniampong, © 2019

This author has authored 274 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GordonOffinAmaniampong

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