As officials from the energy sector continue to decry the rampant vandalism of evacuation power lines and expensive towers across the country, the vandals maintain a felony on the power sector causing a stretched blackout in the country.
Last month the State Minister for Energy ,Hon. Sidronius Okaasai Opolot while opening the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) Mission To Uganda at Speke Resort Munyonyo said security agencies have since mounted a manhunt for the suspects whom he said are involved in acts of “terrorism and economic sabotage.”
Flanked by the Under Secretary and Accounting Officer at the Energy Ministry, Mr. Emmanuel Freddie Mugunga, Minister Okaasai said that the power lines which were cut down caused the black out in and around Kampala and added that the affected areas continue to experience load shedding for at days as the Ministry of Energy technical teams work around the clock to restore and stabilize power supply.
Since last year, thieves and vandals have brought down 45 efficient towers. Details from UETCL’s vandalism indicate that up to 52 electricity transmission towers have been ruined by vandals along the corridor between Bujagali Hydropower Dam and Kakira.
Over 52 towers have been vandalized in such a manner that most of their angles were taken. The same data also points out that transmission cables straddling more than 16kms have been cut off and stolen by vandals including inter alia, the conductors and insulators.
However, are these culprits aware that the Electricity (Amendment) Act, 2022 (the Act) passed the bill on Wednesday, 13 April 2022.
This passing of the bill came at a time when the country has been experiencing vandalism of power lines, transformers, poles and other related infrastructure.
The act among others, provide for deterrent penalties for theft of electricity and vandalism of electrical facilities, provide for the membership and funding of the Electricity Disputes Tribunal, and to provide for additional functions of the authority; to increase funds allocated to the ERA from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent of the revenue received from generated electrical energy.
The act also prescribes the circumstances under which a holder of a generation or transmission license may supply electricity to persons other than a bulk supplier to industrial parks at a tariff determined by the government.
Electricity (Amendment) Act, 2022 (the Act) provides punishment that is prohibitive and increased fines.
The Electricity Amendment Act 2022 became operational in June 2022, and UETCL has used it to secure some convictions.
The legislation recommends a string of tough punitive measures against vandalism. For example, Section 85, Subsection 3 of the law, states that a person convicted of having stolen materials of conductors (cables) or towers, is fined 100,000 currency points (approximately Shs2b).
The same law also provides that a company found to have purchased stolen electricity equipment be fined up to 20,000 currency points (approximately Shs400 million), slapped with a sentence not exceeding 10 years or both.
Through the Energy ministry, the key players in the electricity sub-sector—including UETCL, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), UEGCL and Umeme—have formed a vandalism committee.
According to the Energy ministry, the government has lost more than Shs260 billion due to vandalism since mid-2019.
At Umeme, the electricity distributor, equipment worth Shs11.9 billion has been lost over the past five years. These include overhead conductors stretching 128.3km valued at Shs1.2 billion and underground conductors stretching 126km worth Shs6.1 billion.
Others include 288 transformers across the country worth Shs4.6 billion and conductors (wires) worth Shs17 million, with the most problematic locations being Kawanda, Mutundwe, Kamuli, Tororo, Masaka, Mukono, Mbarara and Kasese, etc.
UETCL is also developing a whistleblower policy that is likely to be passed next month. This will enable it to offer financial rewards to members of the public who offer information leading to arrests of vandals or recovery of stolen materials.
Milton Muwuma (NRM, Kigulu County South) says it was necessary to increase the penalties under the new law to counter the mushrooming scrap dealers who always source their raw material from vandalism of state property.
“These people vandalize meters, poles and transformers putting the country at a loss. The penalty on vandalism had to be higher,” he said.
Bugweri County Members of Parliament, Hon. Abdu Katuntu said that there is disrespect of public property citing the vandalism of the chain link fencing constructed around the Kampala- Entebbe Expressway; Katuntu said serious punishments should be meted on the culprits.
The Attorney General, Hon. Kiryowa Kiwanuka, defended the need for the hefty penalties.
Despite huge investments in the sector, Uganda continues to grapple with rampant cases of vandalism of power transmission and distribution infrastructure and officials from the energy sector urge the public to be vigilant and report those responsible to the nearest police station and sister security agencies.
Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development last month said that by cutting down electricity supply network it leads to wanton- power blackouts, threatens national security and homes; increases the cost of doing business and electricity tariffs, and disrupts vital health and education services as well as people’s livelihoods.
“The people taking down the power lines and other infrastructure are not the common people down there. These vandals are very sophisticated people. So we need to make the law very deterrent,” he said.
One electricity tower costs in the excess of 20,000 USDs and if not stemmed the economic loss to the country runs in billions of shillings .