Make electricity vandalism a capital offence

This is a fact, and it is time we stood up to it. The nation loses money directly through the theft of electricity and vandalism of Umeme property. At the same time Umeme’s efforts to serve its clientele’s energy needs in real time and at the best cost are also put to waste.

Friday May 7 2010

By Charlotte Kemigyisha

This is a fact, and it is time we stood up to it. The nation loses money directly through the theft of electricity and vandalism of Umeme property. At the same time Umeme’s efforts to serve its clientele’s energy needs in real time and at the best cost are also put to waste. On average, a transformer provides electricity access to 2,000 domestic clients. When it is vandalised, these clients suffer inconveniences due to the power outage. The cost to Umeme of replacing this single transformer will be in excesses of Shs30 million for the equipment alone.

This expenditure is most times unbudgeted for, meaning resources meant to grow and further develop the network have to be diverted to accommodate this pilfering. In a space of one month alone last year, 42 transformers were vandalised in Nateete, a Kampala suburb – an average of about three transformers every other day! In Masaka, another 29 transformers were vandalised in January alone!

As beneficiaries of this electricity, all of us are implored to guard our electricity generation assets jealously from vile acts such as transformer vandalism. Any suspicious looking individuals seen around transformers should be immediately reported on our toll free number 0800 185 186. It is imperative that the public appreciates the massive negative impact of electricity-related crimes like conductor theft, illegal connections and vandalism to the general social-economic picture of the country, particularly to life-supporting institutions like hospitals.

Umeme emphasises the importance of undisrupted electricity supply to these facilities, which need electricity at all times. We are on a campaign that seeks to end deaths by electrocution due to illegal connections. For instance in one year, about 65 lives were lost in just one sub-county as a result of illegal connections. Another 31 deaths were recorded countrywide in 2009 as a result of vandalism and illegal connections, and thousands of injuries.

Every home that bypasses metres, is putting the members of their family at risk of electrocution, since the earth-leakage device – meant to offer protection in the event of leakage currents – is also bypassed. Those who reconnect themselves illegally in most cases use the wrong conductor sizes, increasing the risk of the conductor heating up and subsequently causing fires. Polythene insulations also expose these people to electrocution especially after it has rained. As a felony, vandalism is made up of the three crimes of theft (seven years), criminal trespass (one year) and illegal tampering with electrical installation (two years). Therefore one may get a sentence of 7 – 10 years if convicted on all counts.

In his Independence Day address, President Museveni implored the judicial system to make electricity theft a capital offence, and we should all support this. With stronger laws in place we are optimistic that electricity vandalism will be greatly contained.

Remember, for every one percentile of energy lost, the nation loses more than $1 million – which comes up to $30million a year at the current loss figures! This money eventually comes back to haunt you– the customer – at the tariff front. So when your neighbour makes an illegal connection, they are simply passing their electricity bill to you. Let’s combine efforts and take commercial losses out of the equation, we shall have set the stage to bring the tariffs down greatly.

Ms Kemigyisha is Umeme’s corporate communications manager
charlotte.kemigyisha@umeme.co.ug

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