With little or no care for the danger of electrocution, electricity theft dominates the cases Guyana Power Light (GPL) encounters, with their Loss Reduction Unit combing villages countrywide and illegal connections being unearthed. Some of them assembled in the most blatant as well as shrewd manners possible.
GPL’s ongoing exercise to reduce commercial losses resulting from electricity theft caused their operatives to yesterday descend on squatting areas on the West Bank Demerara, including Sisters Village and Skull City.
Many residents’ excuses were pertaining to lack of regularization of their community, cost of living and corrupt GPL operatives who gave them wrong advice, rather than explaining the proper procedures to obtain the utility’s service.
“Imagine we applied for service how long now and never get through and there are poles all over the place…What should I do, accept darkness?” one resident questioned.
Another said; “What will happen to all my meat in my fridge? How will my children study at night? What am I supposed to do? I have done everything I was supposed to at GPL and then this happens.”
Many persons also complained of large bribes that were reportedly paid to some GPL operatives – in some instances, persons claim to have paid between $75,000 and $100,000 per connection.
GPL operatives in the field explained that the company cannot survive if persons continue to steal electricity. Yesterday some 3000 feet of duplex wires were seized along with several tampered meters to the dismay of the consumers.
“When others steal electricity, the persons who are paying for their services are affected and already we are seeing extended periods of power outages across the country. This will more than likely continue if electricity losses are not reduced drastically. No entity can survive and improve services to customers without the much needed capital.”
One senior GPL operative lamented, “The cost of stolen electricity is being passed on to the other consumers. Some persons even risk their lives to steal electricity and a number of them have died in the process. Children are killed accidentally while playing, because of crudely installed wires which are not meant for electrical transmission. Homes have been destroyed by fire as well. But many persist in making illegal connections to their homes.”
According to Field Services Manager, Looknauth Singh, if GPL personnel are found taking bribes to breach and tamper with meters and install illegal connections, they can be investigated, since all meters are registered within the system along with persons who installed them.
Singh explained that disciplinary measures can be taken which can lead to termination of services or contract and if someone is found in breach of the established requirement, that contractor can be fined $20,000 for each illegal job done.
He explained that if persons visit GPL in a large group and request service, the power company will submit such a request to Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) to give the go-ahead to have them provided with service legally, pending regularization of the community.
It was also noted that consumers who steal electricity can also apply for service but if they are caught stealing electricity, GPL can refuse the request. In addition, if a person is found guilty of illegal connections or meter tampering, they can be charged and placed before the courts. Before the household could be reconnected, the person would have to pay a reconnection fee, and a back-billing penalty.
According to a Senior Investigator attached to the Loss Reduction Unit, illegal GPL connections can be uprooted today and tomorrow persons find ingenious and even more dangerous ways to reconnect. He said GPL only issues 60 feet of service line and a consumer has to pay for the extra to reach their home. However, if it surpasses 125 feet, then that would be done under Government’s capital works.
It was also explained that although a customer is charged, he/she can still appeal to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to dispute what GPL found and the commission has mechanisms and an engineer to check the installation and reveal their findings, and even ask that GPL explain if they are not satisfied.
Records reveal that 22 percent of the company’s losses are non-technical in nature and are largely as a result of electricity theft, faulty meters and deficiencies in the billing system. After four years and the injection of billions of dollars, the company was only able to secure a mere 2.3 percent loss reduction.
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