Say watt?

  • Perhaps our elected officials are taking their duty to ‘take charge’ too literally

Feb 7, 2019-

When officials of the Nepal Electricity Authority in Rautahat district followed up on complaints of electricity theft in the area by conducting a ‘surprise check’ last week, they experienced a particularly dismal lightbulb moment: The crooks included the elected mayor, ward chairman, and other local body chiefs.

Shyam Prasad Yadav, mayor of Gadhimai Municipality, and Ram Singhasan Yadav, chief of Gadhimai ward-6, were among those who were found stealing electricity from overhead power lines through the use of hook lines. Demonstrating vaulting tenacity, Saroj Ray Yadav, chief of ward-1 of Garuda Municipality, was even found distributing a portion of his stolen power to his brother’s house nearby. Perhaps our elected officials are taking their duty to ‘take charge’ too literally.

While these current affairs may elicit shock for some, Nepal Electricity Authority officials claim that the local government’s involvement in power theft has emerged as a major new challenge. The state-owned power utility estimates that 15.45 percent of the electricity generated is lost through the distribution network. Around one-fourth of this loss is due to theft. These actions inflict losses worth billions of rupees every year.

Granted, those in power are not the only entities involved in the scourge, but their participation should be held in light of more scrutiny. Among their various duties, local representatives were elected to uphold the law and promote civic responsibility. Their leadership and actions set clear examples for the community; if elected representatives are habitually engaging in electrical theft, the entire practice is legitimised.

While the Nepal Electricity Authority has an extensive chequered history of corruption of its own, it has recently upped the ante against electricity theft. In 2017, this meant reshuffling over 2,480 staff on suspicion of their involvement in electricity meter tampering. Coming to terms with the misuse of power within the utility has been a long-held battle, but recent efforts indicate a (hopefully sustained) break from habitual tendencies.

As per instructions from the Ministry of Energy, the power utility is striving to bring down electrical leakage to 15 percent by targeting the crime. As previous efforts have shown, the active role of local representatives in reaching this target is an important requisite. In February 2018, when electricity theft in Lalitpur reached as high as 50 percent of the total consumption—causing an annual loss of revenue of Rs500 million—the authority worked with Lalitpur local representatives to clamp down on the thievery. The NEA-led efforts resulted in the collection of over Rs1.5 million in fines in a matter of weeks. It is important for local representatives to demonstrate accountability and support the authority’s efforts. Similarly, the utility must continue ensuring that government officials and members of their own administration are not let off the hook simply because they are in positions of power.

Certainly, stealing electricity may seem relatively minor and petty in the embarrassing milieu of crimes committed by government officials in the country today. But these seemingly minute criminal acts can become conduits for further degradation of the law in the eyes of the public. These actions demonstrate the extent to which elected officials will go to capitalise on short-term opportunism. This inexcusable (and literal) lust for free power must not be taken lightly.

Published: 07-02-2019 07:32

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