Government debt bleeds LEC

Government debt bleeds LEC

MASERU – THE government owes the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) a staggering M65 million in electricity bills.

The debt, which keeps mounting every year, has hobbled the company’s operations as it struggles to meet its obligations.
For instance, the power company is behind on new connections and payments to suppliers.

Workers say they have been pleading for a salary review but the company always pleads poverty because it is owed by the government.
It is also struggling to buy crucial equipment.

The debt took the centre stage when the Minister of Energy and Meteorology, Professor Ntoi Rapapa, visited the LEC staff for an introductory meeting on Monday.

The LEC’s acting managing director, Dr Leketekete Ketso, was forthright as he narrated how the debt has hamstrung operations.

Dr Ketso said every year the government’s debt hovers around M50 million as the government keeps making part-payments and bringing huge balances forward.
He said when there are huge balances they push ministries to pay but very few do.

“Other ministries would normally show up while others will not,” Dr. Ketso said. Chairperson of the LEC Board, Refiloe Matekane, said the power company is grappling with cash flow problems because of the government’s debt.

“When people do not pay the electricity bill even the company becomes affected,” he said. Prof Rapapa said it is embarrassing for the government to owe such huge amounts to the LEC when it diligently pays its foreign companies.

“It is so bad that you can owe your company yet you do not owe the neighbour’s company,” Professor Rapapa said.
Although the minister did not mention names he could have been referring to South Africa’s Eskom, from which Lesotho buy electricity.

He said the government should lead by example by paying its power bills.
The government, he said, should be the first to pay its electricity bills because it owns the LEC.

He wondered how the government expects the LEC to operate optimally when it’s owed millions.
The minister however said he will work with the company to ensure that the debt is cleared. He said in the meantime the LEC should be looking at ways to collect its debts from the government, companies and households.

“There should be some few changes which will help to mitigate these problems,’’ he said. Matekane recently said the cash-flow situation is so bad that the LEC has resorted to disconnecting owing customers.

Refiloe Mpobole

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