Electricity thieves face Shs1b fine, jail - Govt

Police parade people arrested in connection with theft of copper wires in Mbale last year. Culprits are now liable to 15 years in prison. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The law regulating the electricity sector aims at better stability and supply of power across the country.

A number of tough penalties have formally been okayed to, among others, regulate and create sanity within the power trade across the country following President Museveni’s assent to eight laws last Wednesday.

Among the penalties contained in the Electricity Amendment Act, 2022 is the prescription to jail all persons found guilty of stealing electricity or destroying its infrastructure for 15 years or pay a Shs1 billion fine or face both.

There were several attempts in a plenary session chaired by Speaker Anita Among in mid-April to lessen the punishment.

However, the Attorney General, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, brushed off these efforts, insisting that the punishment was befitting and hence would serve its purpose.

“When you are setting up penalty factors like these, anyone trying to vandalise electricity or energy infrastructure should know they are likely ending up in prison. If you give them Shs50,000 and they vandalise 10 transformers, they are capable of paying you. So for us we are telling you, you steal them, if you are not likely to get Shs1b, you get 15years. So it is deterrent,” Mr Kiryowa told Parliament at the time.

Seconders of the tough penalty such as the Kiboga Woman MP, Ms Christine Kaaya,  say the law will ‘cure’ the ills within the electricity sector, hence better the stability and supply of power across the country.

“We have provided for the cure not the prevention because when we talk about penalties, they have been there but getting the person who carried out the vandalism is still a challenge,” Ms Kaaya said.

The electricity sector has suffered a string of challenges along the chain of distribution with some areas pushed into darkness due to vandalism of infrastructure such as transformers for sinister motives.

“When one tower is cut down through vandalism, the cost of one tower is about Shs350m. When one tower is cut down, it affects the people on both sides. So for us to propose the penalty of Shs1b, we are just perfectly in order. So the proposal is increasing from 10 years imprisonment to 15years,” Mr Emmanuel Otaala, the chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee, that processed the law, said shortly before it was passed on April 13.

The law also caters for the membership of the Electricity Disputes Tribunal and lays out extra functions of Electricity Regulatory Authority.

The genesis 

In January, the Minister for Energy and Mineral Development, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, tabled the Bill that was meant to repeal the Electricity Act Cap 145 that was enacted in 1999. At the time of first reading,

Ms Nankabirwa said: “The penalties under the current law are not deterrent enough to discourage theft of electrical energy and vandalism of electrical equipment. These criminal acts have consistently increased the cost of operation and maintenance of electricity infrastructure as well as the commercial losses experienced by the electricity distribution companies.”