4.2 million people live in Liberia but only just over one 1% the population has access to electricity, one of the lowest access rates in the world. For those who can access electricity the cost is high. Somebody living in a one bedroom flat in Monrovia could expect to be paying triple the amount for their energy as somebody in a similar flat in London. A minority of Liberians can afford to purchase a diesel generator and fuel to light their homes at night.
To generate a kilowatt of electricity this way costs $3.96 an hour – so for New Yorkers that would mean a monthly electricity bill of over $7920. It is therefore no surprise that the high cost of energy is named by businesses as a top reason not to invest in Liberia. High energy prices eat into potential profits, preventing them from expanding and creating much needed jobs.
The Mount Coffee Hydro project will quadruple the amount of electricity available in Liberia and reduce the cost. More Liberians will have light at night. Doing business in Liberia will become more profitable.
To help get the Mount Coffee Hydro project completed, the AGI team in Liberia work with a small team in the President’s office: the President’s Delivery Unit (PDU). The unit is in charge of making sure the President’s most important projects are completed on time. We supported the PDU to see how their involvement could get Mount Coffee completed more quickly, this included making judicious use of Presidential pressure to keep things on track. We also helped the PDU to see that, as well as challenging the project leads, they can be more effective by supporting contractors and dealing with problems as soon as they arise.
For example, the Ministries of Public Works and of Finance were being slow to pay compensation to the families who had to move house to make way for the new power lines. Compensation cheques can take a long time to get paid in Liberia, which sometimes delays projects like this for months. In this case, the PDU supported the contractors to work with the relevant Ministries and made sure the payments were made quickly, keeping the project on track.
We are now working with the PDU to make sure the flow of information to the President can inform effective decision making. We’re working to ensure information comes from a range of sources (not just the project lead) and that officials visit project sites to see what's really happening on the ground.
We hope that the stronger monitoring practices that the PDU is using will help more Liberians access power and establish a strong precedent for future infrastructure projects. Mount Coffee is due to start providing power in December 2016 and be fully online by mid-2017. Its success will make a real difference to the people of Liberia.
The work described here was carried out by the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, it is now being continued by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.