Egypt: 4mn electricity violations in 2020 due to soaring prices

The Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy expressed a state of escalating anxiety through a series of statements due to the growing phenomenon of stealing electricity.

The ministry’s spokesman, Ayman Hamzah, said that his ministry issued reports of electrical thefts during the first nine months of last year amounting to more than three million minutes.

The cost of these violations exceeds EGP 2.4 billion. This means an average of one million violations every three months, or four million every year, bearing in mind that the real number of violations is likely to be more than what has been discovered. This has increased over recent years, prompting the state to make amendments to the Electricity Law that increased the penalty for thieves, whether in the terms of imprisonment or the prescribed financial fine.

Adel Gomaa, who works as an electrician, says that there are many ways people can reduce their electricity bill, on top of which is the delivery of electricity from the main board of the building, not from the apartment meter. Therefore, the bill is issued in numbers much lower than what must be paid according to real consumption. He adds that the danger of this is that it is easy to detect by bill collectors, as they find the wire coming out of the panel, so many resort to what they call a “triple knife,” which is connecting a switch to control the current in a hidden location inside the apartment that gives them a choice between turning on the electricity through the meter. The resident divides the consumption during the month between the two previous options to not reveal what he is doing. The electricity bill does not look too low, so as not to arouse suspicion with the electricity administration, so it sends technicians to inspect.

In turn, Imad al-Saeed, an electricity bill collector, explains others means that citizens take, such as removing the meter cover down towards the ends of the wires entering the house so the meter stops rotating, but the electric current is not cut off. However, he confirms that this method is easy to check. After repeated removal, the perpetrators often fail to restore the meter so that it looks normal and so this is the easiest to uncover. He also refers to the “remote control” which is used to disconnect the meter from the mainboard and then connect it when needed.

A technician in the electricity company was arrested for installing electronic circuits for pre-paid meters, which are controlled remotely by remote control. The conductor confirms that most of the cases he uncovered were due to reports that came from relatives or neighbours of the violators in retaliation against them after family disputes.

For his part, economist Adel Amer attributed the reason for the spread of electricity theft to the high prices and the rise in the value of the successive electricity bill, which increased the burden on citizens, especially those with limited income. Amer added, in a press statement, that the Ministry of Electricity has set some controls and conditions that must be adhered to in order to connect an electric meter. Still, some circumvent the law considering that this is a complication. They are not able to implement these procedures, especially since the theft of electricity is the quick way to connect without cost.

As for the journalist and political analyst Alaa Radwan, he considers the theft of electricity a state of silent rebellion against rising prices. The citizen, according to Radwan, thinks that he struck two birds with one stone by stealing the electric current to reduce some of the monthly obligations, and on the other hand, he takes revenge on the government by using an innovative form of rebellion in light of the regime’s confiscation of all forms of rebellion and expression of opinion. He adds that the difference in the atmosphere of freedom between the reigns of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the late President Mohamed Morsi is the fact that popular campaigns can no longer be organised, such as “I will not pay,” in which citizens declared that they would not pay their electricity bills during the rule of the late president.

The Ministry of Electricity intensified its campaigns in combating the phenomenon and granted 600 employees of the ministry’s periodic inspection sector the right to judicial control in this regard and the efforts of the Ministry of Investigation and the Electricity Police. An official source in the Ministry of Electricity confirms that a new card has been developed in all distribution companies nationwide to detect tampering with prepaid meters, eliminate electrical power thefts, and apply new fines and penalties. He explains that the ministry has started implementing a plan, in cooperation with the Shuaa Company, which is responsible for recording electricity meter reading, for eliminating the thefts of electric current and violating contract terms for users of prepaid meters, which number 9.5 million meters so far.

In its new amendment, as announced by the Electricity Utility Regulatory Authority, the law punishes electricity thieves with imprisonment for a period of no less than six months and a fine between EGP 10 to 100,000, or one of the two penalties. The law doubles the two penalties if the theft is repeated so that the term of imprisonment is at least one year and the fine ranges from EGP 20 to 200,000. In all cases, the court shall oblige the convict to return double the stolen electricity consumption value. It is noteworthy that domestic electricity prices have increased seven times since al-Sisi took office in 2014, the most recent of which was a 30 per cent rise in early July.