Illegal electricity connections: How will John Peter Amewu fight it?

I was once a Muslim but now a convert to Christianity. You may be wondering why I decided to go on this religious tangent, but I must emphasise that my intention is not to spite anyone, except to illustrate a point due to the subject-matter of this article.

Indeed, this article is intended to discuss power theft, or what we popularly call illegal electricity connection.

By the way, what is illegal connection? It is a situation where consumers by-pass the meter to enjoy free electricity without paying for it.

The religious angle

It will interest you to note that both the Bible and Quran abhor or frown on thievery, and to buttress this, let us look at Exodus 20:15 (Holy Bible) and Quran 5:38.

Exodus 20:15 reads: “Thou shalt not steal,” and Quran 5:38 says: “And (as for) the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands as a punishment for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah.”

This means that those who profess Christian and Islamic faith are required by their religion to refrain from engaging in stealing or theft.

Shamefully, a lot of us Christians and Moslems are guilty of theft: We steal in one way or the other. And one of the organisations in the country that our thievery is hurting so much is the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG).

It baffles me how a country with majority of citizens professing to be Christians and their Muslim brethren, who are required by the tenets of their religion to refrain from such acts, could be indulging in criminality.

It is disgusting that religious leaders, who are to lead exemplary lives for their ‘flock’ to emulate, are also equally guilty of the illegal electricity thievery.

For instance, in June this year, the head pastor of Miraculous Jesus Ministry in Koforidua in the Eastern Region, Prophet Nyame Akwadaa, was found to have illegally connected power to his church.

This criminal act, which covered a period of 24 months, amounted to GHS19,087.41

Then in August 12, this year, the Kumasi Suame Service Center of the ECG, in collaboration with the area police, arrested individuals including elders of two churches-Church of God, Kwapra, and Holy Church of The Lord, Kronum-for illegally stealing electricity.

Another example was a pastor friend resident in Ashaiman, who was caught by the ECG for electricity thievery. I could go on and cite many more instances, but so that I do not bore you with them, let me blow your mind with the staggering data on illegal electricity connection.

Statistics in catchment areas

As at the end of 2017, ECG had examined about 534,121 meters across its operational areas namely Ashanti, Western, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra and Volta Regions. And out of the total number of meters that was examined, 18, 985 were tampered with. This means that consumers of those meters by-passed the system to enjoy free electricity.

Per the regional distribution of illegal connections, Ashanti Region topped with a figure of 7,943, followed by Eastern Region with 3,377, Tema had 2,487 whilst Accra West and Central Region had 1,874 and 1,134 respectively.

Accra East was on the sixth position with 860 whilst Volta and Western followed with 754 and 455 in that order. And a monitoring by the ECG head office also revealed that about 101 meters within Accra had been tampered with. Total amount of revenues that the company lost through the nefarious activities amounted to GHS45, 478,069.00. Out of the figure, ECG managed to retrieve GHS24, 624,442.00.

Now, let me further blow your mind with what has happened within the first half of 2018, as far as illegal connection is concerned.

As at July 2018, ECG had examined about 250,616 meters across the country and out of the figure, 11,890 were found to have been tampered with.

Per the regional distribution, Ashanti Region was again ‘comfortably’ leading with 7,653, followed by Accra West with 1,432 and Central Region 688.

Eastern Region was fourth on the thievery log with 671 whilst Western, Accra East, Tema and Volta followed with 402, 398, 304, and 257 respectively.

Per the data, ECG has been able to retrieve GHS26, 007,153 from power theft between January and July 2018.

It is an undeniable fact that illegal connections had been draining the Electricity Company of Ghana and for that matter the economy, and that may be one of the reasons why they have been unable to settle their huge indebtedness to the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCo).

I believe it is about time, as a country, we become seriously concerned about it and take appropriate steps to deal with the issue of illegal connection.

Energy Minister’s looming action

I became one of the happiest people when I heard that the new Energy Minister, John Peter Amewu, has declared his intention to fight illegal connection because it is draining the economy.

Yes, Peter Amewu must take the bull by the horn by leading this fight as he did with galamsey.

But my question is: How is he going to fight illegal connections since it is a different ball game altogether? Are we going to see the involvement of the military in fighting illegal connections as we saw in the galamsey fight?

The need for media coalition against illegal connections 

Are we going to see the formation of a media coalition against illegal connections as it happened to the galamsey? How about appointing respected traditional leaders or influential persons as ambassadors against illegal connections? Isn’t it about time the Energy Commission reviewed its regulations to make the sanction regime for power theft stiffer?

Illegal connection should be viewed as a threat to the survival of the power sector; hence it calls for a concerted effort to deal with it.

There is the need for the Ministry of Energy to launch a national campaign against illegal connection to raise public awareness about the threat of the issue to the survival of the power sector and carved compelling messages for Ghanaians to refrain from the practice.

The campaign drive should involve influential traditional leaders, media personnel, pastors and Imams and interest groups.

For instance, the pastors and Imams can use their platforms to educate their members to stop engaging in illegal connections.

Imminent power crises predictions

If we fail to tackle the issue, it is going to land the nation into trouble. Recently, the Institute of Energy (IES) raised concern about the possibility of the country returning to the era of ‘dumsor’, due to the over GHS900 million ECG owed the Ghana Grid Company.

In fact, I cannot conclude this piece without letting readers know how the ECG feels about illegal connection and the determination by the Minister to wage a war against it.

In an interview with William Boateng, who is the General Manager in-charge of Public Relations at the ECG, he said the Company sees it as welcome news, bearing in mind how the Minister’s action against galamsey in his previous portfolio as Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, recorded huge successes.

According to him, power theft has been draining the Company’s finances and for that matter, Ghana’s economy and, in the light of this, the ECG commends the sector Minister’s bold decision.
He explained that power theft is one of the major problems confronting ECG, as far as the operations of the company are concerned.

Illegal connection worrying/punishment

William Boateng, who described the issue as worrying, noted that power theft contributes to between 15 and 20 percent of the losses in the operations of the Company, stressing that “it is because of this that we have created loss control unit in all the regions.

“We are paying particular attention on illegal connection, so we commend the Minister for his determination to tackle the issue. He has really inspired us and we’re ready to support him to deal with it,” he stated.

He argued that there is the need for the Regulatory Bodies namely, PURC, Energy Commission, as well as the Energy Ministry, to consider reviewing the laws regulating electricity theft to make sanctions against illegal connection much stiffer.

In his view, the law should be reviewed such that if, for instance, a customer engages in illegal connection, that customer would be made to pay for the stolen power and also get disconnected for some weeks or months.

Additionally, he said the culprit could be made to hang a tag around the neck with well emblazoned inscription: ‘I engaged in illegal connection’, and be made to render community service for a month or two.
According to him, such punishment would deter those engaging in illegal connection.
Personally, I totally share in the views expressed by William Boateng, especially the view that we review the sanctions regime to make the punishment for power theft much stiffer.

I also believe that the law should be reviewed to make room for CEOs and Managing Directors of Companies, who are caught to have connected power illegally, are disgraced by publishing their names in the national dailies to serve as deterrent to others.

The time to deal with illegal connection is now, and we must all rally behind the ECG, Ministry of Energy and Northern Electricity Distribution Company (NEDCo) to stamp it out to save the power sector from collapse.

By Michael Creg Afful