The power company cannot cope
Last week Guyana Power and Light released some interesting figures about electricity theft. There were also some revealing figures about the extent of convictions. The power company stated that over the past six years it arrested 2,490 people for illegal activities pertaining to the supply and distribution of electricity.
In Guyana there are about 200,000 households so the figures would suggest that one in every 10 homes had someone who was arrested for an illegal activity involving the power company over the past five or six years.
But the figures are more startling when one looks at the number of illegal connections that were found and removed from private residences one can only conclude that electricity theft is more widespread than one could imagine in a country. For a six-year period the Guyana Power and Light Company removed 49,298 connections. Each connection should have led to an arrest, unless the home would have been unoccupied. If it is an active residence then the power company has the authority to revisit the home with the necessary notices of prosecution.
When one looks at 49,298 illegal connections being discovered and only 2,490 persons arrested one gets the impression that something is not right, that some people are being let off the hook. Indeed given the number of illegal connections one must conclude that many of these are repeat offenders.
Of those arrested 541 were convicted. This indicates that for every four persons that the power company apprehends, one is convicted.
It goes without saying all is not well. The power company claims that it is losing money through the illegal connections but the truth is that it is not. Those who do pay their electricity bills are the people who are paying for the stolen electricity.
We are all bearing the burden of the dishonest and will continue to do so because people simply would wish that they do not have to pay for anything while there are those who for one reason or the other, would seek to abide by the law. And these very law-abiding citizens would never report an illegal connection because they refuse to be caught up in some conflict or the other with neighbours.
And even when there are reports, the power company does not have the resources to track the reports in a timely manner. This is what actually encourages electricity theft and causes others to join the ranks of those performing illegalities. The reason for growing band of illegals is simply because one man sees another apparently getting away with an indiscretion and he feels that the fates would favour him in the same manner. Thus, the task of GPL becomes more burdensome.
A power company, aware of its limitations, would ensure that there are adequate numbers of technical crews. In fact, these are the last to be laid off in a properly run power company. In the event of a crisis and Guyana always seems to have a power crisis, the more the need for technical crews. In Guyana most of these are contract workers but there are others in the company.
The records show that there were nearly 8,000 complaints over the past six years. It is not clear how many of these have been addressed and if all are not addressed then once more we see the need for increased technical crews.
We know that there are not enough because transmission lines are not cleaned as frequently as they should. We also know because some communities remain in darkness for long periods whenever some system failures occur.
Indeed, some of these system failures occur because people who steal electricity overload systems. It matters not to these people how many homes are destroyed. They always believe that they are the exceptions. Some die while making the connection but again there are those who pay precious little attention to this fact. The solution to the problem lies somewhere between underground cables and constant security checks. There were a mere 2,746 security checks in the six years. This translates to just under 500 security checks a year or less than two per day.
Therein lies almost all the problems.