Hi-tech electricity poachers cause TNB to lose RM500m yearly

By Wani Mutiah, The Star

Power thieves are employing elaborate measures and using high-tech equipment to siphon off electricity worth hundreds of millions of ringgit from Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

In one case, a commercial property owner went to great lengths by building a secret access tunnel to the meter room so his workers could quickly remove electricity siphoning gadgets whenever a raid was conducted.

TNB president and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh said these thieves were mostly in commercial and industrial premises.

“The manner in which meters are tampered with is becoming more and more sophisticated with various electronic gadgets used to register low readings,” said Che Khalib, adding that this resulted in TNB incurring an estimated RM500mil losses annually.

He added there were even cases when remote control devices were used to switch off electricity siphoning devices whenever meters were being monitored by TNB.

Che Khalib, who visited The Star with TNB chief operating officer and executive director Datuk Ir. Azman Mohd, said the secret tunnel was found at a hotel in a northern state.

“When our officers went to the premises for inspection, someone went into the meter room through the passage to remove the gadgets used to tamper with the meters,” revealed Che Khalib.

He said the construction of a secret tunnel to siphon off electricity gave an indication about the extent to wich the thieves would go.

However, said Che Khalib, meter tampering in private residences were not as sophisticated and in some cases were made-up of crudely concealed by-pass wires.

He said there were also instances whereby homeowners fixed power saving devices which they believed would reduce the amount of electricity being used.

Che Khalib said there was a probability the installers of the devices tampered with the electricity meters.

“But people think its the power saving device that is reducing electricity usage,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Azman said TNB also had sophisticated equipment to detect meters that were tampered with to register lower reading than actual consumption.

“No matter how it is done, all we have to do is to just go to the meter and measure the accuracy of its reading with our equipment,” he explained.

The difficulty faced by TNB, said Azman, was the fact that those stealing electricity were able to do it in a manner that could not be detected by the naked eye.

“Our meter readers would not be able to detect any irregularities when sophisticated methods, such as remote control devices, are used,” said Azman.

According to Che Khalib, electricity theft had many repercussions besides loss of revenue for TNB.

“It also decreases the electricity supply to the area in which the theft is taking place because the actual consumption is not registered,” he said.

As a result, TNB may be under supplying electricity there and this causes various other problems such as the lighting being dim due to low voltage.

He added tampering with electricity meters was also unsafe and could cause fires.

Che Khalib said the amount of electricity that was being stolen was huge with one factory being back billed RM10mil.

Che Khalib called on consumers not to entertain anyone offering to tamper with their electricity meters as TNB would detect it eventually.

“Previously, we did not have enough personnel to carry out regular inspection but now we have a dedicated recovery team,” said Che Khalib, who also did not discount the possibility of TNB staff offering such illegal services.

However, he said TNB was also serious in countering graft within its company as it was working closely with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.