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Let There Be Light: But at What Price?

Let There Be Light: But at What Price?

One of the first pledges the President, Ernest Bai Koroma made upon winning the 2007 General Elections was “to restore electricity”, especially to the city of Freetown. It was an open secret, that Freetown was the “darkest city” in modern times. Freetown was not only the darkest but also one of the noisiest cities. To compare the noise in Freetown to that of New York will appear too farfetched, but you could bet your bottom dollar that both were not far apart in terms of decibels. The noise was largely down to the generators that were fondly but sarcastically known as “Kabba Tiger”. So when Ernest Koroma promised that he would restore electricity within the first 100 days in power, you would have been forgiven to think that the 2007 election campaign was in overdrive. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)

Living in Freetown in the late 80’s and 90’s may have felt like near Neanderthal then. The mere mention of the National Power Authority (NPA) never conjured any positive image; to a point that many referred to it as “Natin Pass Advantage”. This was not only due to the lack or absence of power supply, but also thanks to its unenviable knack of supplying excuses for its ineptitude. If it was not the lack of parts, it was for lack of fuel, or a broken transformer, etc. It would be unfair to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the NPA. Part of the problem was its inability to generate funds from its consumers. The meters were not pre-paid then, and we all know what happened when monthly payments were due, or when disconnections were authorised for not paying bills. Consumers were also guilty of depriving the Authority of its much needed revenue in those days, and you know how.

The president did not falter on his pledge and Freetown was “in light” again even before the first 100 days of his tenancy at the State House. The restoration of electricity, especially in Freetown took centre stage during discussions between those at home and “foreign citizens”. Whenever one asked about the new government then, “electricity” was the watch word. Members and sympathisers of the APC Party were quick to point to this as the harbinger for the “Agenda for Change”. You couldn’t envy them for such bragging rights. Even non-partisan individuals could not help but acknowledge that it was “a job well done”. I can hear you whispering, “What has become of that pledge now”?  That’s for you to guess.

Among the numerous projects undertaken during the last five years, you could be hard pressed to deny that electricity has been one of the highlights. The benefits derived from this have been well documented. Notwithstanding the financial implications for businesses all over, the standard of life in general, has gone up a notch. This may be irregular in some places, but BO, Kenema, Yele and Makeni have been widely regarded as major beneficiaries; thanks to the hydro-electricity in their environs. I could not recall my geography teacher intimating that Port Loko district had the potential for hydro electricity then. News about ongoing work on the mini hydro project sent me running for my “Geography of Sierra Leone” text book; 8th. Edition I hasten to add.

There is a lot of kudos to go round, but it is the ongoing suffering of consumers in Makeni that has caught the attention of the writer here. I can see you laughing your head off at the phrase “suffering of consumers in Makeni”. It may appear paradoxical to describe them as “suffering”; especially when you consider that other areas don’t even have electricity… yet. Makeni is one of the areas that can boast of a twenty four hour service. The introduction of pre-paid meters has not only made it a viable enterprise, but also one that is easily managed and accounted for. The “pay as you go” method of payment has brought the adage, “as you make your bed, so shall you lie on it” into sharp focus.

What surprises many people is, “Why ONLY ONE PAY POINT” for buying your electricity? The whole of Makeni is served by ONLY ONE PAY POINT, which is at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank. Due to the high demand, consumers have been forced to queue up from about 2 am, in order to be in position to buy their electricity. Numbers are allocated, but even when these are given out, consumers say that there are no guarantees that they would be able to buy their credits. Some even complained that they have seen other people walk in late in the morning, but get preferential treatment. This is open to individual perception; that could be suggestive of possible malpractices. The long queues that sometimes extend around the building have now become a common sight to early risers. Sometimes, you could be forgiven to think that the queues are part of the architecture.

There have been many complaints lodged by consumers; especially during phone in programmes on Radio Mankneh; the locally based radio station. The impression is that NPA does not seem to care about the difficulties faced by its customers. For all we know, there may be various reasons for the lack of outlets as pay points for electricity. In spite of these perceived reasons, many consumers would find it difficult to consider them as reasonable enough for an excuse. In this day and age, if Airtel and other companies can facilitate top ups, money transfer and so on by electronic means, what is to stop NPA; one of the gargantuan services of the nation from  doing the same?. If that is too much to ask, at least more pay points can be opened to ease the undeserved suffering of the masses. NPA must pull its finger out and respond to the demands of its customers; if not for anything else but for decency ‘sake. Did I hear you say something about “Agenda for Prosperity”? NPA must get on its bike now and do the right thing. One PAY POINT FOR THE WHOLE OF MAKENI AND ITS ENVIRONS is pathetic; to say the least.

Please don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room. It’s on Pay as you go.

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