One reason why people went mad over the recent EDSA notice of possible tariff increase was, it is coming hot on the hills of a fuel price hike from Le 25 to Le30. Granted that every Government needs taxes to meet its commitment to statecraft, however, such taxes should also take into consideration their efficacy and reasonability in addition to the extra unnecessary burden they place on a citizenry already barely scraping to survive. What is amazing sometimes is that the taxpayer is never properly briefed about the tax. The issue we have in Sierra Leone is that people’s take-home pay is so small that any price increase will only push people further into abject poverty. Given the large population of the unemployed and the increase in essential commodities, such exacerbates the general difficult socio-economic milieu.
A major bone I always pick with EDSA is their charging Service charge on prepaid meters in addition to the GST (Goods and Services Tax).
I have always been most uncomfortable with the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) operations, especially their poor revenue collection. Before EDSA was established, the bulk of Freetown had the old clock meters for electricity. Before the use of prepaid meters, we had meter readers who went door-to-door reading meters. We paid service charges on a monthly basis. Most times our meters were not read regularly and cumulated bills were presented, sometimes making it difficult for full payment. However, the Service Charge was relevant and acceptable as the only tax we paid!
When Late President Kabbah came to power we were told that all commercial taxes were to be put under one name, the Goods and Services Tax (GST). This definitely was to include a tax like a Service charge for electricity. To our greatest surprise, EDSA continued to deduct both the service charge and the GST for prepaid meters.
It is understandable for EDSA to deduct Service Charges on Old meters that are not prepaid. With the pre-paid system, consumers pay in advance even if after payment electricity is not available for weeks. What is most interesting is that even if one does not have electricity, no sooner you pay, the Service charge is deducted from it. When you consider the money the government and Donors pump into the energy sector, one wonders whether this outfit is fit for purpose. Do we have to talk about the corruption in the area of the sales of meters? I am sure you remember at one state their very offices were set on fire!
The former President Koroma’s Government at a point got fed up with the then NPA’s moribund state. He intervened and sacked both the Board and Management. Parliament passed the Electricity Act in 2011 but action took off only in 2015. Two Bodies were set up by that Act, the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) and the Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC) Oh My God you could have seen EDSA in 2015 all over the place in hired rotten poda podas, fixing cables here and there. We were all happy. They told us they would change all the cables to provide the right current to our homes. Barely one year on without fulfilling all those promises, at least had we started having more electricity generation. Later to our greatest surprise, EDSA started taking GST and service Charge from our payments even with pre-paid meters. All the cries of the public especially in the east went unheeded. How scandalous that a public service outfit that is cumbered with a million ineptitudes can decide to go deaf and dumb when it comes to consultations with consumers! Interestingly EDSA is now doing Town Hall meetings on their intended tariff increase which is arrogantly more than 100%!
Well, the Koroma Administration did a very good job with electricity and the current Bio administration has taken electricity generation to a level no one imagined given that the moment he took power, the country was plunged into darkness. Can you blame the Government for that? No! At least we know the laudable efforts made in the last Administration to improve electricity generation. Today electricity is one of the most successful sectors of government. The big question is, are citizens fully benefiting from the government’s efforts? Today workers of the Electricity institutions have joined hoodlums to destroy Transformers and cut electricity cables as a dastardly sabotage of the government to look bad. Tell me what kind of nation is this?
Sierra Leone has a very poor record when it comes to public service delivery. What is so annoying is that even when you pay for a service in advance you do not get value for money if at all. The high level at which people’s awareness has gotten is so pleasantly amazing that there will soon come a time when many greedy, corrupt and unpatriotic compatriots will run away from holding public office, or if they do they will stay on the narrow path or get roped in by the ACC. Well, they say that when you hit rock bottom, your only choice is to bounce back. Come on how many decades have we waited to bounce back?
When people say that Government is continuity, what they forget is that continuing bad governance for a hungry, depraved, illiterate and suffering people is perhaps the worst disservice. This is why it is so very wrong to expect sitting Governments to do everything that the state needs, you cannot have every sector as a priority. This is where the current government is taking the right step in concentrating on Human capital development through education, Health and infrastructure.
As a nation we squandered and missed our development chances right from the beginning a couple of years after independence. Well, that is all part of our ugly History. We are now to focus on what should be done to move this country fast forward. Definitely, we had a weak foundation and that is why it is difficult to build going forward. Yes, it is difficult but doable albeit at the tail end of the development queue of the comity of nations.
What we realize strangely, in Africa, leaders with a vision to move their nations forward and the ones that suffer the heaviest vilification. Just check out a country like Ghana whose Independence founding fathers left a strong foundation in so many sectors including electricity generation. The Akosombo Dam he left laid the foundation for Ghana’s electricity generation and has been improved over the years and still serving that nation.
For Sierra Leone, our case was negatively different. I started hearing about the Bumbuna Hydro in 1974 but we only had trickles of electricity in the late nineties.
Our Late President Stevens once said at a point, “When you have too many problems, put each one in separate compartments. Then open them one by one and solve them. If you put all of it in front of you, you will go mad!” Despite the reality of this statement, it underplays the relatedness of sectors and their challenges. Why is it that when fuel price goes up all prices of goods and services go up?
EDSA should realize that electricity service has an overwhelming economic effect on the entire population. If at all they have to increase why can’t it be say 25 or 50%? Many people cannot even pay the current tariff; this partly explains the high electricity theft.