20 November 2013, Kampala – Uganda loses $30m (approximately Shs 76bn) annually in electricity theft and other associated power losses, according to Umeme, the country’s main electricity distribution company.
While responding to complaints from district leaders mainly from Bugisu sub-region at a workshop at Hotel Africana, Robert Kisubi, Umeme’s stakeholder manager, said the loss was huge and was costing both the company and country dearly. In trying to steal power, many people have paid a bigger price; they have been electrocuted.
Hussein Kato Matanda, the Sironko Resident District Commissioner (RDC), said many people in the villages, especially in Elgon sub-region, are being electrocuted while illegally tapping electricity. Matanda stressed that in Sironko district alone more than 15 people had been electrocuted while stealing power through illegal connections in the recent months.
“Many people even fear to report the electrocution. They simply say the cause of death is meningitis and the dead are normally buried secretly,” he said.
Matanda explained that ever since electricity was extended to various villages under the Rural Electrification Project, the number of deaths due to electrocution is worrying. He asked Umeme and government to do something to halt the deaths.
Last month, Diana Nandawula, the regional police spokesperson Elgon region, said the police records more than two cases of electrocution each week as a result of illegal power connection. Recently, the police registered two deaths from the same family after an old woman and her granddaughter were electrocuted as they attempted to hang wet clothes on a wire outside the family home.
Matanda said there were also many cases which went unreported. Most of the affected districts are Mbale, Bulambuli, Sironko, Bududa and Manafwa. In his response, Kisubi said that Umeme is already aware of the rampant power theft in eastern Uganda.
“We need to work together with the communities to help us identify these power thieves. Theft of power does not only affect those who steal it, but even the law-abiding citizen.”
He added that power thefts usually lead to increased tariffs because there is a need to cover up the gap left behind by those who steal the electricity. Peter Lokeris, the state minister for Mineral Development, called for concerted efforts to end power theft.
“I think all of us should create awareness about meddling with electricity when you are not an engineer. When power is stolen, all of us lose because power will not be available,” he said.
Kisubi blamed the rampant power theft on weak legislation. Power theft and illegal connection are not considered serious crimes.
“The best sentence we have ever secured is two months in jail. In Kenya, for instance, if one is convicted of power theft, you have to pay five million Kenya shillings (Shs 150m)” Kisubi said.
Fred Kabagambe-Kaliisa, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Energy, asked leaders to sensitize their people to shun power theft.
“All leaders, especially politicians, should tell people that they shouldn’t hang themselves on wires in the name of stealing electricity.”
– The Observer