More Ghanaians Steal Electricity

The Severe electricity shortage gripping sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ghana, is bringing fresh attention to a longstanding problem which has to do with organized and widespread theft of electricity. Despite the success of the pre-payment metering system, Ghana is still believed to loose us much us one quarter of its electricity revenues due to theft complicating efforts to upgrade service. The Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) has two million customers but it is currently making a loss of 25 percent, representing GH¢6 million in monetary value. Mr. Cephas Gakpo, Managing Director of ECG, said as a result of obsolete machinery, the company incurred 12 per cent technical losses and an additional 13 per cent commercial loss (electricity theft). Mr. Gakpo said the situation has compelled his outfit to engaged consultants to inspect the meters of 10 000 customers in order to check their accuracy and integrity He further stated that personnel from the Loss Control Units of the company occasionally pay surprise visits to ECG customers to check whether their meters are functioning well. Apart from Ghana electricity theft is a problem all over the world and utility companies have been struggling to find ways to combat it. In South Africa alone, Eskom, the chief power provider, is believed to loose hundreds of millions of dollars of revenues a year to thieves. Some of the losses are due to non-payment of bills, but a significant amount comes from unauthorized tapping of electricity lines. Theft of electricity in Africa worsens the shortage by robbing companies of revenue needed for expansion. Sometime the thefts take place with the assistance of employees of electricity companies. Poor service by electricity companies also can fuel resentments that can be expressed through forms of customer protests which include theft or non-payment of bills. In Uganda for instance, reports say customers are frustrated with an electricity provider who routinely blames high theft for poor service. Last year the government-owned New Vision newspaper published on article by an energy expert who argued thus: ''It is not fair for an innocent power consumer to pay exorbitant tariffs because the service provider has failed to stop thefts." Efforts to crack down on scofflaws can be difficult. In Cameroon, where the U.S. electricity company, AES, is the national provider, raids on organized theft are common. The company's security officials come prepared to tear down illegal networks and even raid businesses suspected of tapping lines. Because losses to theft can be so high in some places, some African electricity providers have experimented with pre-paid services, offering a discount to new customers if they agree to accept meters that require an electronic debit card to work. In Ghana the national electricity company was said to have sharply reduced losses due to non-payment of bills by requiring most new customers to accept the pre-pay meters. The pre payment cards are refilled by paying cash at offices of the electricity company. Mr. Gakpo however urged the public to report persons who have connected electricity illegally for a handsome reward. E-mail: [email protected]