By Jacob K. Lupai
February 28, 2012 (SSNA) — Public utilities such as electricity and water are essential for life. However, in poorer countries some may think of electricity as a luxury but not a necessity. This is, however, arguable. Clean drinking water, though, is essential. In the context of this article electricity is the focus and so is the centre of discussion. Juba, the capital of Republic of South Sudan is a metropolis rapidly expanding with modern amenities and construction works going up. As a cosmopolitan city there is a big market into which any entrepreneur could tap. For electric power availability to the public in the cosmopolitan city of Juba, South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation is the body responsible. However, due to the unreliability of the Corporation some private enterprises, well to do individuals, government units and non-governmental organizations provide their own electricity by using generators. The majority of people nonetheless rely on South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation for electric power.
Electric power availability to the public in Juba
It is difficult to think of modern living conditions without electricity because modern living does not make electricity a luxury but a necessity. The thinking of taking towns to villages in the rural areas will also make electricity to be a necessity. With the trend of modern technological development the need for electricity will be greater. This suggests that electric power availability to the public will increase tremendously. However, in Juba electric power availability is always on the decrease or unavailable for extended periods of time. This is despite payment for electricity is in advance. The system is the use of pre-payment with a card where the card is inserted into an electric meter in the property to register the amount of electricity in kilowatts for which the pre-payment has been made. One would then expect electric power availability until the pre-payment for the amount of electricity is completely consumed. However, this is not the case. At times electricity is off for several days on end. Seven days or more without electricity are not uncommon in some residential areas in Juba. This is obviously frustrating to customers and those concerned. South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation may be endeavouring to do a good job but needs to double efforts in planning and implementing activities to improve electric power availability to the public in Juba.
Reasons for poor electric power availability
There are a number of reasons cited for the poor electric power availability to the public in Juba. Usually after frustrating days without electricity the customer affected may simply walk into the control room at the power station in Juba. Precisely this was what I did in the afternoon of 24 February after frustrating five days without electricity. I walked into the control room but there was nobody inside the room. I saw some people sitting and chatting outside under a row of trees near the main gate. One young man stood up and walked to the control room where I was standing near the door. The young man who was polite asked me of what my problem was. I reported that for the last five days I did not have electricity in my house. Previously from time to time I had no electricity lasting several days. The young man who appeared helpful pleaded with me to allow for three hours after which my house would have electricity. I obliged but asked a number of questions about the persistent shortage of electricity. I was made to understand that shortage of electricity in Juba was deliberate because of fuel shortage but at that moment there was fuel. Another reason cited was that the generators were ageing and that the need for spare parts was great. The lack of spare parts was a problem. For fuel shortage the contractor was blamed and for spare parts the lack of funds was the problem. It would appear that the shortage of electricity was beyond the control of technicians in the power station but most likely within the reach of South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation.
After being told to be patient for three hours because fuel had just arrived, indeed electricity was on in my house again. However, strangely enough in less than two hours of electricity in my house it was again off and at the time of writing this article the following day electricity was not yet restored in my house. Also when the article went to print there was no electricity in the house. This is a very poor reflection on South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation. This could be perceived either as a fooling or deception of customers by an incompetent corporation.
Blame for poor electric power availability
Who is to blamefor poor electric power availability to the public in Juba? South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation is responsible for the supply of electric power. It is therefore obvious that any complaint or blame should be directed to the Corporation. It is easy to blame but it is important to highlight what might have been the problem. Although the problems cited are fuel shortage and lack of spare parts, there could also be other problems such as lack of incentives to operators, lack of training and poor planning. However, it is convenient to concentrate on fuel shortage and lack of spare parts as the most cited problems in the control room at the power station. Fuel shortage was cited as a problem with the contractor who did not deliver on time. For this South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation seems to be part of the problem. The Corporation should have known the fuel consumption per day, week and per month when all generators were fully operational. Depending on how long it took the contractor to deliver fuel, three to six months should have been allowed as a guarantee of fuel availability for generators to operate without turning off or shutting down electric lines. Two months before any quantity of fuel is completely used up, fresh delivery should have been immediately arranged. In this way the claim of fuel shortage may become non-existent. In Juba most fuel stations seem to be well stocked serving customers with all types of fuel. Why is it not possible for the power station to be well stocked in advance as the other fuel stations in Juba? The contractor is duty bound to provide the power station with the needed fuel at all times if the agreement in the contract stipulates so.
For the lack of spare parts there is definitely lack of proper planning and execution of the plan. A plan should have been made with the knowledge of the type of generators in operation to stock sufficient spare parts in a warehouse at the power station. Citing lack of funds as the reason for the lack of spare parts is grossly misleading. First of all electricity customers pay in advance. Where then does the money paid in advance go if not to make fuel and spare parts available for the generators to operate at all times for the comfort of customers? Could it be a case of incompetence, mismanagement or what? Surely South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation is squarely to blame for the poor electric power availability to the public in cosmopolitan city of Juba. People are paying in advance for their comfort but not for the convenience of the Corporation to turn electricity on and off as it wishes because of the Corporation’s incompetence and possible negligence.
South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation seems to be a slow learner. Fuel shortage and lack of spare parts are problems that their causes could have been learned and understood for a prompt remedial action but not left to drag on endlessly to the frustration and discomfort of the public in Juba. Internal structuring may be necessary for efficiency in electric power availability. When the same problem repeats itself time and again then something somewhere is not right. The National and State Assemblies may need to research the root causes of poor electric power availability in the capital because the public is suffering after paying South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation in advance.
In conclusion, South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation should not enjoy the luxury of existence at the expenses of people while failing miserably to serve efficiently in delivering the pre-paid electricity which is vital in raising modern living standards. The Corporation should not turn Juba into a village of 19th century rural Africa where electricity was unthought-of or unheard of. Juba is a cosmopolitan city in an independent country and so deserves a better service of comparable standard from South Sudan Electricity and Water Corporation.
The author can be reached at [email protected]