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Police, UMEME launch operation on power theft in Masaka

Umeme employee on an electricity pole (FILE PHOTO)

Masaka, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  The Police and Umeme enforcement teams in Masaka City on Thursday spent the better part of the day in running battles with residents over illegal power connections.

The operation dubbed “Komboa” begun from Nyendo Township, a suburb in Masaka city. It was characterized by scenes of resistance and verbal altercations between the enforcement teams and culprits, who accused Umeme of being the accomplices in 

procuring illegal connections in the area. 

Komboa is Swahili for ‘Redeem’, and in Umeme’s case, the operation is aimed at redeeming the network from illegal users and operators, and will involve identifying illegal connections, disconnecting them, arresting and prosecuting the culprits.  

Fraouk Tusabe and Paul Mugerwa, both residents of Market Cells in the Nyendo-Mukungwe division who evaded arrest argue that many people in the area cannot afford the cost of power hence resorting to taping onto the power line. 

They argued that such operations can hardly solve the problem of power theft. They challenged the suppliers to instead consider a reduction on the tariffs to make it affordable to the consumers. 

In many areas, residents abandoned their homes in fear of arrest, but the enforcement teams went ahead to recover the connection equipment including meters. 

Christine Namutebi, the Metering Services Manager at UMEME, indicates that they are on a countrywide operation to reduce the power losses through unscrupulous customers. 

According to Namutebi, their assessment teams identified the greater Masaka sub-region as one of the areas that post the high figures of power loss to a tune of 4 Billion Shillings.

On UMEME staff accused of being accomplices to the theft; Namutebi indicates that their teams are carrying continuous investigations about the claim. 

Isaac Katewanga, the UMEME Western Region Manager indicates that besides fighting theft, they also intend to use the operation to check on dangerous electricity connections in the area for purposes of eliminating fatalities related to power. 

The current Electricity Act gives a maximum penalty of two million shillings in fine or three-year jail sentence to offenders convicted of power theft and illegal connection. Below the maximum the law providers for lighter sentences of caution and community services to culprits of offences related to electricity theft.  

However, the current law is undergoing review by stakeholders, with proposals of making it more punitive to offenders.

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