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Suspension of free connection policy fueling power theft in Masaka

Umeme employee on an electricity pole (FILE PHOTO)

Masaka, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The suspension of the free electricity connection policy by the government has been identified as one of the push factors for illegal connections and power theft in Masaka sub-region.

According to reports from the power distributor Umeme Limited, 30.4 percent of the power supplied to the nine districts of the greater Masaka sub-region is lost to illegal connections and unmetered consumption. According to Christine Namutebi, the Umeme Metering Services Manager, the vice costs the country up to four billion Shillings every year.

In 2018, the government with a loan obtained from the World Bank launched the electricity connection policy as an intervention to increase smooth electricity connections by heavily subsidizing connectivity to the customers.

Under the free connection policy, a customer that required no pole was asked to pay only inspection fees, while the one that required one pole would pay 360,000 to be connected to the national grid. However, the project was suspended midterm in 2020 after the government ran short of funds and allowed power distribution companies to resume charging the customers the full cost of power connections.

This meant that any domestic consumer who wanted a power connection needed to pay at least 720,883 Shillings, where no pole was required or 2.4 million Shillings where one pole is required with uninsulated cables, on top of the 41,300 Shillings in inspection fees.

But many of the culprits of illegal connections apprehended in an ongoing joint operation by police and Umeme compliance enforcement team have blamed the government for hastily suspending the programme before satisfying the underlying demand for power. The clients argue that some of them had paid money to Umeme, only to hear that project was suspended before they could be connected to the line.

Patrick Kakeeto, a welder in Lukaya town council whose connection cable wire was confiscated for consuming unmetered power says he had paid his money under the policy but was not connected which prompted him to hire a private electrician to connect him to the supply line. He said he only improvised after several unsuccessful reminders to Umeme.

Moses Muwonge, another suspect who was also disconnected from the grid, blames the government for suspending the project before meeting the public demand for power, arguing that many people cannot afford the fees currently charged for connection.

Barbara Kasande, the Umeme operations manager for the Masaka Sub-region confirms that the number of customers that had applied for power was affected by the suspension of the program. She however indicates that this cannot be justification for illegal connection.

She insists that their operations will proceed to curb the current huge power loss resulting from the theft and other related activities, urging the customers to wait until the government gets money to resume the project or they incur the current charges to get connected legally.

Records indicate that about 13,000 customers who had applied for power under free connection policy did not get covered before the project was suspended.

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