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Police, UMEME relaunch operation on power theft amidst rising losses

Police officers arrest one of the illegal connection suspects in Bulenga.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Electricity distribution company, Umeme, and the Uganda Police have launched a joint Operation against illegal power connections and related activities, starting with Kampala area.

The relaunch of the operation dubbed ‘Komboa’ follows an increase in the level of power losses over the last one year, especially during the lockdown, when enforcement was suspended.

According to Umeme, power losses through theft and illegal connections have risen to more than 17% of the total power supplied, up from the 13% recorded a year ago.

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.

More than two hundred police officers have been commissioned to facilitate the operation led by more than 100 technical and security officers from Umeme. The Operation will start in Kampala before spreading to other parts of the country.

The Head of Communications and Corporate Affairs at Umeme Peter Kauju says the operation has two targets including saving the company and the government losses that are incurred through unbilled consumption, illegal connection and vandalism.

Umeme partly blames the persistence of the vices to the weak laws even when one is successfully prosecuted.

They hope that the proposed amendments to the Electricity Act, now at the ministerial level, will raise the penalty to at least 10 million shillings, from the current 2 million.

At the commissioning of the joint operation at Mutundwe substation in Rubaga Division, Kauju also said from Kampala, the operation will spread to other areas.

The Head of Metering Services at Umeme, John Niwamanya appealed to those who have made illegal connections to approach the company to avoid penalties.

He says for any percentage point lost, the monetary value lost is 10 billion, with Kampala alone accountng for almost 40 billion shillings of the losses.

The police say it was also stretched during the election period and that is one of the reasons the operations were suspended in November.

The force has joined the operation aware of the negative record they have regarding their operations, with several cases of manhandling members of the public.

Ashraf Seiko Chemonges, Commander, Alert Squad, who is leading the operation around Kampala warned that usually, even among those carrying out the operations, there are corrupt individuals.

These take advantage of the ignorant populations to and conduct illegal operations for cash.

But he says some are masqueraders or not genuine workers of Umeme, according to Senior Superintendent of Police Chemonges.

There are no accurate statistic for the number of people who die due to illegal connections as many cases are not reported by the victims’ relatives for fear of prosecution.

Kauju says sometimes one incident can involve many deaths.

And SSP Chemonges says in some areas, bodies are buried at night for fear of attracting investigations and prosecution by authorities.

Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesman Patrick Onyango implored the officers to maintain discipline, avoid using excessive force and other forms of mishandling suspects.

He warned them to beware of the public opinion which is highly influenced by social media.

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