Locals accuse Umeme officials of vandalism

Mr Joseph Katenda, the operations manager of Umeme in Masaka Sub-region, and other officials look at some of the poles cut down in Ddegeya Village, Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District, on December 22. PHOTO/WILSON KUTAMBA

What you need to know:

  • Thieves disconnect high power voltage lines to steal copper cables or transformer oil.

A section of residents in Masaka City have blamed the rampant vandalism of electricity installations on the national power distributor, Umeme, claiming it is either their own staff or former employees behind the racket.

“No ordinary resident has knowledge of disconnecting a high power voltage line to steal copper cables or transformer oil. It is Umeme staff or their former employees who are involved,” Mr Rodgers Buregeya, a youth councillor in Masaka City, said at the weekend.

This came days after suspected vandals descended on Ddegeya Village, Kisekka Sub-county in Lwengo District last week and cut down five electric poles and later made off with wires measuring five kilometers. The incident left towns on Mbarara–Masaka highway such as Kinoni, Kyazanga, Mbirizi, Lyatonde, and Kyawagonya in a power blackout for five days.

Mr Paul Bukenya, the chairperson of Ddegeya Village, said businesses which depend on electricity have registered losses.  “As leaders, we have tried to rally people to support Umeme in fighting vandalism,” he said.

However, the residents said Umeme has lost community support following its recent harsh operations against power theft dubbed: ‘Komboa’

“Some of the locals see vandals destroying power lines or stealing transformer oil, but they are not bothered,” Mr Samson Ssemwanga, a resident of Degeya Village, said.

He said the continued acts of terrorising residents suspected of stealing electricity by Umeme team and police have prompted them to view the power distributor as an ‘enemy’.

“Some suspects are brutally arrested and their household items are confiscated,’’ he said.

Ms Anna Kiyemba, a resident of Nyendo –Mukungwe in Masaka City, said during on of the operations, her household items, which included a fridge and a set of chairs were confiscated.

“The people conducting those operations don’t ask anything, they just confiscate our items and arrest you even when you know nothing about the illegal power connection,” she said.

Mr Joseph Katende, the operations manager of Umeme in Masaka Sub-region, said two to five cases of vandalism are registered every week.

“This range from stealing transformer oil to electric wires and poles, which are expensive to replace,” he said.
Mr Katende, however, denied the accusations  against his staff.

“It is not true that our current employees are involved in illegal connections and vandalism, but we cannot rule out our former employees,” he said.

Mr Katende said they work closely with the public who report incidents of vandalism. 
“Those saying that the community is not supportive could be part of the racket,” he added. 

Mr Katende said Umeme loses Shs24 billion nationwide in unserved energy, equipment replacement and vandalism and maintenance costs. 

In Masaka Sub-region, the loss is estimated at Shs600m per year. He said they are going to strengthen their surveillance team. 

The law
Tampering with electrical installations is illegal and contravenes section 81(1) of the Electricity Act, 1999. The penalties for power theft and illegal connections in Uganda range from caution, community service, to a maximum of Shs2m fine and or a three-year jail sentence.