Rampant power theft and vandalism are hitting power distributor Umeme hard with the company recording billions in losses annually, writes ABUBAKER MAYEMBA.According to company officials, over Shs 7bn has been lost in vandalism alone, most notably in the areas of Kasese and Mbale. In January this year, 11 transformers, 42 poles and 49,130 conductors worth Shs 400m were vandalised in the Eastern district while eight major incidencts were reported in Kasese.

It was also revealed that electricity theft contributes seven per cent to power shortage. Florence Nsubuga, the Umeme chief operations officer, says power theft has not only affected economic activities of innocent consumers but has also had a toll on the power distributor. Umeme fact file indicates that the company spends up to Shs 70m to replace a stolen trans- former.“The money we are spending in repairing and replacing vandalised equipment would have created a greater customer experience if it’s injected in network refurbishment. This is frustrating our efforts to maintain the networks for reliable supply,” said Nsubuga.Currently, Umeme is under fire from parliament which wants government to revoke its contract allegedly on grounds of under-performance. MPs blame the power supplier for the high tariffs and unstable supply, yet government has built dams that distribute enough power.On Monday, in a move to increase revenue that could enable it expand its operations and offer subsidised tariffs, Umeme launched a drive to minimise the damage done by vandals.The campaign, in partnership with Transparency International, will educate the public, investigate the causes of power theft and engage legislators to amend laws concerning prosecution of culprits among others.

Selestino Babungi, the Umeme managing director, urged those using power illegally to harmonise with them so that they avoid being caught by the law. He said that culprits were free to contact any Umeme office within the first 30 days of the campaign.“An amnesty of 30 days is in place but after we will go out and find those with illegal power connections and we shall prosecute them,” said Babungi.He added that application for electricity was simplified and one required only an identity card to be connected within seven days. Umeme’s current custom- er base stands at 790,000 and the number is expected to reach one million by the end of this year.[the observer]