On Tuesday, April 30, President George Weah submitted a bill before the Senate meant to amend the Penal Law Chapter 15 to add a new provision, section 15.88 which would make power theft an economic sabotage. The bill is being sponsored by Grand Kru Senator, Peter Coleman (CDC). It is meant to cut losses to the country’s public power provider, Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).
Losses at the state-owned power company are ballooning and records show that power theft would lead to unaccounted for energy at a whopping cost of US$35 million per year. Accumulatively, if nothing is done to stop this loss, the company would be staring at unaccounted for millions needed for plant extension. The President is rightly looking to the enact a stringent law that would deter power theft. On Capitol Hill, the bill has been sent to committee room to get expedited owing to the importance attached. It could be law within a matter of time.
However, some decisions may sound good in the boardroom among the elites and look right on paper but they sometimes end up being the worst when implemented. While it is true laws are meant to provide order and sanity in a society, when any law hurts the least of society only based on the fact that they are poor and lack privileges, no matter how well-intentioned the law may be, it ends up being a bad law.
We think for the President this is going to be a bad law to implement. Power theft is common in slum communities and poor neighborhood where the President is popular. To start rounding people up from those communities and throwing them in prison arbitrarily would spell bad omen for the President. We know for a fact that most of the would-be culprits would go to jail without trial as there are others rotting in prison right now who cannot get trial for petty crimes as court dockets are crowded.
Those involved in power theft for the most part are not criminals, these are people on need. The President was seen as a savior for these people and not a tormentor to them. His advisors are wrong about punishing power theft the way they want this done. But it will be the image of the President that suffers at the end. We are not encouraging lawlessness but we can’t punish poor people because of what they do due to lack of privileges. The condition of these people is a social condition this government must remedy. For Weah, this must be priority number one. Mr. President slum dwellers and CDC partisans are synonymous.
Please withdraw that bill Mr. President and seek a solution to the plight of the people rather than a punishment for their lack of privileges. These slum neighborhoods have always relied on illegal connections. This undermines collection of needed revenues but that can be remedied. We think you need to instruct the LEC to connect every habitable structure in the communities where it lines will extend. This would discourage illegal connections, since every habitable house will be connected, as well as, accounted for all energy.
The question is who pays for the poor? Mr. President, every society cares for their vulnerable – children, elderly, disabled, less fortunate – and Liberia is no exception. You come to this post as savior of the poorest of the poor. Your administration, therefore, should seek solutions to resolve matters that affect poor people. We think slum neighborhoods and dwellers need to either have cheap power or subsidized power. For example, we can have subsidized zones as West Point, Clara Town, Popo Beach, Gibraltar, parts of Logan Town, parts of chicken soup factory, Buzzi Quarter and some of the slum communities around the country. This might not be the accurate picture of the poor communities, but we can work out a solution.
Let us not have a law like the hut tax of the early 1900 in this country. While it was true the government needed revenues, then, it tried to collect from people who were outside of the money economy; those people had no jobs and no businesses. At the end, poor villagers got abused, beaten and tortured by soldiers to compel villagers to pay taxes on their huts in amounts they did not earn.