Thursday, 26 May 2011

Randall Street Blues!

"....the LEC is expensive, is apparently easy to steal, has poor customer service, and takes forever to get a connection. "

This morning, our poor new neighbours had their LEC cables stolen. We only found out about this skullduggery because our Janitor/Security, Mr. Joseph Dennis, had gone upstairs to check on the water levels in our water tank and saw that the wires had been cut. 

Our neighbours only got the LEC connection only about a week ago before these sadistic buggers stole the cable. Moreover, the landlord has just recently built a new perimeter wall at the back of the building and installed razor wire across it. We ourselves have installed free-hanging bulbs at the back of our apartment so the back yard is brightly lit at night! These petty thieves keep outwitting us! 

This brings back the nightmarish episode of December last year when our office/apartment's LEC cables were stolen about 3 times in one week! 

See here

Since we applied our solution of burying the cables in a trench, the wires have not been stolen again. 

Overall, our experience with the LEC is mixed. On one hand, it is nice not to depend on generators as an electricity source. Generators are noisy, have to be constantly serviced and fuel is expensive. It is almost $ 5/gallon at the moment. Also, getting electricity through a public entity, gives one a sense of normalcy in a country coming out of a civil war. Lastly, we are usually on for most of the time and outages are getting less and less frequent. And how can I forget, the bill always comes on time, on the dot!

On the other hand, the LEC is expensive, is apparently easy to steal, has poor customer service, and takes forever to get a connection. 

Apparently - it is not so dangerous at all!
Ask us - the residents of Randall Street!

Our bill, for instance, has steadily increased from about $ 200/month to $ 600/month without any increase in consumption! All efforts to ask the LEC to investigate the issue have resulted in nothing and we are frustrated as ever. Apparently, many other consumers on Randall Street are complaining of the same thing. An LEC field technician suggested our meter was damaged and needed to be repaired. The meter went to the lab and re-installed. However, when the bill came at the end of the month, it was higher than even before, following the same devastating trend since December last year.  Also, apparently, we do not get 220 Volts but a few Volts less than that - at least that is what an air conditioner supplier told us when he tried to convince us his faulty AC was OK and our electricity supply was at fault. 

All in all, it is difficult to have complete and reliable information in a place like Liberia. Your guess is as good as mine regarding whether LEC tarriff's have indeed increased or not, whether or not we are getting 220 Volts or not and so on.

Public entities are struggling to re-establish themselves and provide service. They are trying to keep the public informed but need to do a better job. 

Meantime, let's hope the neighbours get their light restored before nightfall tonight! I've asked the landlord to deduct these expenses from their next rent but I doubt he will agree!

Just the other day I was cursing the landlord for a badly-leaking roof that covers the main courtyard of the building and promptly tripped and fell on my nose. 

Here are a few articles about the LEC: 

24 June 2010
"The Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) has disclosed that Liberia's electricity generation capacity will more than double within the next year from 10-megawatts to 23-megawatts" 

"Liberia has selected Canada's Manitoba Hydro International(MHI) Ltd. for a five-year management contract to help rebuild and improve electricity services in Monrovia and to connect at least 30,000 new customers in the city. "

You can visit the LEC website however only the History page has any information. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Back to our cozy office

Got back to Liberia on Sunday, 22 May and back to our desks since Monday. I love being back in our quirky and cluttered office.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


I finally got my  UK visa today after a week of aggravation and stress. 

Submitting the application

I submitted my UK visa application last week Tuesday - I was in the visa centre from 9 to 3 PM that day! It was real torture, we weren't allowed mobile phones or any other device. Haresh was accompanying me so we managed to create some entertainment for ourselves by chatting to other applicants. We also took a coffee break at the nearby swanky Chase restaurant. That was a welcome relief before we had to go back into the concentration camp. 

I haven't travelled to the UK twice in the last 2 years therefore they treated my application as a standard one and not return my passport until one week later. However, we spoke to a lady in similar circumstances who got it in 2 days. So that was encouraging! We were told to go the British High Commission on a Thursday at 0730 to try to appeal to them to release my passport earlier but we thought it best to just let the damn thing take its own course. We paid some extra money for  the SMS service so we would be notified in case the passport was processed earlier which we secretly hoped for.

Each time I go through the UK visa process it has become more and more tiresome and expensive - for instance I spent $ 450.00 for a 2-year visa. And the fees are non refundable. 

The visa centre is manned by security guards who harass the applicants at every step. "Sit here!" "Don't pass through this corridor, go round the longer way." "You lost the seat because you had to go outside? sorry you lose your seat." They keep barking orders at the applicants as they sit in one queue after another for hours and hours as if they are criminals even though they have paid handsome sums of money.

The visa centre is of course separate from the British High Commission which has outsourced the visa application process to a company called VSF. Therefore, one doesn't even meet Brits in that centre but Ghanaains, who are trained to do everything v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. At one point 2 ladies got up to take their lunch and left 2 desks unattended for 30 minutes. The lady who attended to me put a 6-months sticker on my application and unless we hadn't pointed that out, my $ 450.00 would have gone down the toilet. Not to mention she had a bizarre lisp on a strange high frequency which actually made listening to her a pain in the neck. I bet she could tune into a local radio station or communicate with dolphins.

I was given ticket number 60 so it took me 6 hours to queue up to pay my visa fees, queue up to present my application and supporting docs to an officer, and do the bio-metrics. It's an exhausting, humiliating process and really makes me question why I bothered to ever go to the UK.

And to add to insult upon injury, the whole time we were subjected to ABBA and Westlife. Talk about torture!!!

Collecting the passport
I thought this bit would be straightforward and pain free. Guess again! 

Collection times are between 2 and 4 PM according to the website. We got there a bit earlier and lo and behold, there were long queues already. We were given a ticket numbered 44. My heart sank at the number because I hadn't brought any reading with me.That was my first worry. Hahah!

Haresh though jumped up and asked someone inside the centre to see if the passport was ready. So we went in there and the lady told us and another patient group that because we hadn't received any SMS notifications we should only come back after we get it. It could be a week, 10 days whichever. I nearly had a HEART ATTACK! We told her we live in Liberia and can't wait around for a visa spending money on hotels! Not to mention we were booked to fly tonight! We would have to pay date change fees otherwise!  That lady didn't register any of this and went on to tell us why don't we just apply for the courier service and they would DHL my passport back! I asked her, which airport would let me travel without a passport?? Anyway, huffing and puffing, we asked to speak to the supervisor. We were told to wait for another ten minutes before we could see him.

We went out into the street, frantically trying to figure out why we hadn't received the damn SMS. I phoned my office to pump my Liberia SIM with dollars in case I hadn't received the SMS because I was out of money. Haresh frantically tried to call the travel agent to cancel the ticket but could not get through. We paced up and down the street in front of the VSF centre, shouting into our cell phones, arguing with each other and at the same time, warding off the local hustlers who kept asking us whether we needed a British visa application. The ten minutes were up and we did not cancel the ticket and rushed back into the centre. 

We met the supervisor who luckily was a bit more reasonable and when we requested him to telephone the High Commission and confirm whether the passport was ready and coming in another batch before the close of day, he obliged. We waited with lumps in our throats and amazingly, the High Commission told our friend that the passport was ready and we don't need to post pone our flight! Hallelujah! We thanked him profusely for diverting our heart attacks! 

We still had to wait for another 2 hours before the next batch of passports came in in which my book was in. Goddamit, the whole process was like waiting for your exam results or some dreadful medical examination results! SO MUCH TENSION AND STRESS! Will I get it? Will they give me 2 -years or less? Bite bite nails, long long sighs, angry angry with the whole world and the whole system, so so fed up and frustrated! 

But there it was! I can FINALLY get on with my journey after a few more grey hairs and less money in my pocket.

After all said and done, I can finally sort out my masters, meet with all of my friends and siblings and enjoy some good-old consumer capitalism!!

PS. I never got the SMS until the next morning. So much for the extra 3 Ghana Cedis we spent for the automated notification service.