Umeme Mbale District manager, Paul Ssewava Ssempira has asked government through the judiciary to have people caught engaging in power theft punished severely to scare away potential thieves.
Ssewava was speaking at a workshop between Umeme and Police, Directorate of Public Prosecution, and the Judiciary from the 12 districts in the Bugisu region. He said prosecuting individuals caught in the act will make stealing power an expensive practice.
“Since August 2016, the Fagiya project achieved many milestones in the region; collections have improved from an average of 94% in 2015 to 100% in 2017, losses have dropped by 7% from an average of 55% in 2016 to 48% in 2017 and the number of new connections annually has more than doubled from 3,541 to 8,431” he said.
He said due to the pressure on power thieves as a result of Operation Fagiya, and Umeme’s increased presence in the community, the methods of power theft have since evolved from the more obvious use of hooks to use of single source underground connections which are difficult to identify. Ssewava disclosed that the thieves had resorted to using hooks only at night.
“The current penalties more or less encourage people to commit the vice since they are not deterrent enough. We have arrested over 138 power theft suspects and produced them in Court of law, 18 have plead guilty and none has been convicted” said Trevor Kigenyi, Umeme Regional Manager.
Kigenyi said the low success rate in court is attributed to the knowledge gap regarding the Electricity Act of 1999, its application and the legal remedies in dealing with those convicted of power theft.
“Although we have been lobbying to have the Electricity Act, 1999 amended to introduce tougher penalties to stop power theft, it is yet to be revised,” Kigenyi said, adding, the laws have to change to make power theft deterrent. Kenya has done it; power thieves pay up to Ksh 1m in fines or jailed for up to 10 years,” Kigenyi argued.
The workshop seeks legal interventions to end the vice, which Umeme says has stifled further investments in building new networks, connecting more consumers, improving service delivery and lowering the end-user tariffs due to revenue loss.
Currently, the penalty for power theft, if convicted, ranges from caution, community service to a maximum of sh2m fine or a three year jail sentence. These penalties for power theft and illegal connections in Uganda are among the lowest in East Africa
Annually, Umeme losses an estimated shs100b to illegal power connection and vandalism