– facing skills shortage, raid affected
One- third of the field staffers at the state-owned Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) are being sent home annually because of corrupt activities, as the entity continues to battle high technical line losses and theft.
Testifying during a public session last week on GPL’s performance in 2012 and for the first half of this year, officials also disclosed that a number of factors, including high levels of defective meters and theft, helped contribute to targets not being met.
By the end of June, the utility company was supposed to ensure its total losses, from theft and technical issues, did not move beyond 29.7%. Instead, it went up to 32.1%.
Under regulations, GPL has to periodically report its performances and steps it has taken to raise its standards, particularly as it relates to customers. Last year, GPL failed to bring down its losses from the 31.5% in 2011. That went up to 31.7%.
Because of the state of GPL’s transmission lines and some aging equipment, it will be difficult for losses to come down in any significant way, unless monies are plugged in new technologies to prevent theft and infrastructure to reduce leaks, Chief Executive Officer, Bharat Dindyal said during the public session at Duke Lodge, Kingston.
This is especially so as more electricity is being plunged into a distribution system that has not been upgraded in any significant way for decades now.
Also there were representatives of the regulator, Public Utilities Commission.
Adding more engines and not addressing the leaking systems will not improve the situation. Already, the company has started to change out its transmission lines on the coast under a US$38M Chinese-funded programme to also build seven sub-stations.
Sloth in Court
It has been no secret also that commercial and industrial customers continued to rack up millions of dollars of losses for GPL because of theft. Several large companies have been found with ingenious systems of bypassing its meters by taking power directly from the lines. To address these, GPL has moved to reroute concealed lines and installing tamper-proof Itron meters at businesses. For residential customers, those found stealing have had prepaid meters installed on top of the power poles as a deterrent.
The company is also embarking what it calls the medium voltage distribution system which will see new transformers being installed in strategic areas with mechanisms in place to prevent illegal connections to businesses.
For the first half of the year, GPL installed 271 Itron meters to businesses with just over 2,000 meters being replaced for being defective. Almost 6,700 prepaid meters were installed with 3,921 illegal connections found. Last year, a total of 7,475 illegal connections were unearthed.
However, perhaps it was the figures regarding prosecutions and the time it takes in court that have GPL unhappy.
There are over 1,000 cases in court that are pending for at least five years. Matters are dismissed because of the lack of employees to provide evidence, due to high staff turnover and protracted delays in completing cases. The delays result in many repeat offenders.
Last year, 292 customers were arrested for theft of electricity with 11 convictions recorded and the rest pending in the courts. This year, for the first six months, 260 persons were nabbed, a clear indication that GPL is fighting an uphill battle.
In 2012, GPL’s Operations Department recorded over 13,000 inspections of meters with 778 found tampered with. Just over 3,100 were also found defective, a worrying trend that has significant impact on the technical losses facing GPL.
In the first half of 2013, the Operations Department visited 15,740 premises and carried out 12,478 meter investigations. Some 1,104 meters were tampered with and over 2,100 found defective.
According to GPL officials, some of the key challenges it is facing includes corruption, recruitment of staffers, sloth in court, illegal connections and finances.
As a matter of fact, there has been significant collusion found at its loss reduction arm, particularly with large business clients. GPL, because it has taken action against staffers, disclosed that it is facing a massive 30% annual staff turnover. While the loss reduction department at one time boasted 18 crews, this has been reduced to 12.
Corruption among staffers is causing a major problem, with GPL remaining unclear as to the extent of theft from tampered installations and defective meters.
A shortage of skills is also causing the utility to fall short of its targets, resulting in a slower rate of its loss reduction programmes. Another major problem facing GPL in its fight to reduce theft of electricity is that of threats.
“Currently staffers are under constant threat of physical harm to body, life and property. Staffers are beaten and threatened with weapons ranging from knives, cutlasses and guns,” said Kumar Sharma, Division Director.
This has affected the company’s ability to fully implement work programmes as there is a heavy dependence on police who are only available at certain times. Despite many reports of illegal connections, timely action is also being affected.
The GPL officials hinted that its field activities may not be meeting the success it wanted because customers continue to perpetuate the act because of infrequent raids. (Leonard Gildarie)
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