JUBA – The New Year almost got off to a very bad start for those living and working in Juba. On January 10th, the Ezra Group and the Juba Electricity Distribution Company (JEDCO) were about to shut down power supplies after the companies had not received USD payments from the South Sudan Government.
The companies announced a plan to halt electricity supply, a move that would have affected more than 20,000 consumers connected to the grid.
Since then, enraged Juba residents have hastily demanded answers as to why the company was halting power when they are paying for the service, and accused the electricity provider of cheating them.
Natnael Ezra, Operations Manager at the Ezra Group explained that, “The Government of South Sudan does not subsidize Ezra, nor JEDCO. To clarify the roles, Ezra is the Bulk Energy Supplier to JEDCO. JEDCO sells electricity to residents and businesses in Juba and collects SSP as payment. In order for JEDCO to make its payment to Ezra on the 5th day of every month, the Government (Central Bank of South Sudan), as stipulated in the Power Purchase Agreement, has to pay the USD equivalent of the SSP collected by JEDCO for sales of electricity during the previous month. Once this USD payment has been made, JEDCO then pays for the Bulk Energy received from Ezra. This USD payment also covers Ezra’s operational costs. Ezra requires USD to pay for ongoing expenses such as fuel, maintenance, lubricants and spare parts.”
Some citizens reacted to the possible shut down with concern and accused JEDCO of being a private company trying to blackmail the young republic and its people.
Santo MalekAnei, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs, Mobilization and Organization, accused JEDCO of trying to hold the government and people to ransom.
“This is a private company and private companies cannot threaten the government, going to the central bank and on air yet avoiding the right channel through the electricity cooperation,” Malek said in an article published in The Dawn Newspaper.
Wondimu Tenkir, Managing Director of JEDCO, responded by clarifying the structure of the company. “The electricity distribution company, Juba Electricity Distribution Company Ltd, is a public–private partnership incorporated in accordance with the South Sudan Companies Act, 2012.It is a joint venture company between the Ministry of Energy and Dams, South Sudan Electric Corporation (SSEC), and Ezra Construction & Development Group Ltd (ECDG), holding 48% and 52% of shares, respectively.
Joseph Thomas, Sales and Marketing Manager for JEDCO added that there is no way a public-private joint venture can do this to the nation in which they are dedicated to providing safe, reliable and affordable power to the populace.
He admitted that the electricity roll-out has not been without challenges, but the government and Ezra met and resolved the issue of how the company would be getting hard currency, adding that the power distributor is committed to continuing supplying uninterrupted power in the city.
In response to claims that JEDCO randomly and arbitrarily decides what it charges customers for electricity, Thomas explained that the tariffs have been set by the government of South Sudan since 2017, when the former minister of Dams and Electricity issued a ministerial circular notifying the public on the subject. This tariffstructure remains in place. But since April 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, JEDCO has given households and government institutions a 20% discount.
Professor AjuoiMagotChol, Dean of theSchool of Engineering and Architecture at the University of Juba, said JEDCO is under pressure to continue distributing and maintaining the grid.
“For Ezra to continue generating reliable power they have to have dollars to import fuel and materials that maintain the electricity supply, including its distribution networks,” Magot said.
He urged the public to understand that power generation is a business, hence it is not cheap to run a 33-meggawatt power plant in a country like South Sudan where everything is imported.
The academic said, “The government should at least providetheir part of the arrangement. If the arrangement is that they have to exchange South Sudanese pounds JEDCO collected from the public, then let them do it in time.”
He added, “If JEDCO is going to depend on exchanging local currency to the dollar themselves, then they have to raise the tariff according to the day-to-day black-market exchange rate. They have to raise the tariff and people will be paying more and this will be too expensive for customers.”
In more good news, at a media conference on 22 January 2021, Central Bank Governor, Dier Tong announced that the Bank will provide JEDCO with US$3 million every month to enable the company to run its operations smoothly.