US anger over Liberia’s power theft and unpaid bills

Liberia’s power distribution firm has lost $220m (£160m) in the last five years alone thanks to a cartel stealing electricity and unpaid bills, US ambassador Michael McCarthy says.

The US is post-war Liberia’s biggest donor in the energy sector.

Six years ago it spent more than $250m on the rehabilitation of the country’s hydroelectric plant that had been destroyed during a 14-year civil war.

The government, which is the biggest customer of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), was often behind on payments, Mr McCarthy said.

“We have been told by multiple sources that there is a well-organised electricity theft cartel that benefits well-connected businesses and even government officials,” Mr McCarthy said

“We care about the development of Liberia and its people, and corruption and power theft are standing in the way of that development.”

He said compared to other West African countries, Liberia was charging too much for its electricity:

  • Ghana: $0.06 per kilowatt hour
  • Guinea: $0.10 per kilowatt hour
  • Ivory Coast: $0.12 per kilowatt hour
  • Liberia: $0.49 per kilowatt hour (and until fairly recently $0.54).

“Why are Liberians paying four or five times more for less reliable electricity?” asked Mr McCarthy.

“The answer is because for each person that illegally connects to a powerline – they are making everyone else underwrite the cost of power and making it harder to reduce the cost for those who pay.”

Privatising the sector has been suggested as a way of solving the crisis.

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