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ERA and EDT should stop aiding UMEME to abuse the rights of electricity consumers

Several innocent electricity consumers have continued to suffer from illegal actions of UMEME because of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) and Electricity Disputes Tribunal (EDT)'s failure to effectively perform their regulatory and enforcement of electricity laws. As a result of their failure or incompetence, UMEME and her agents are shamelessly abusing electricity laws and policies including the Electricity Act 1999, the Electricity Quality and Service Regulations and the Electricity Primary Grid Code that were put in place by the government to protect citizens' rights and enable them enjoy reliable and quality electricity services.

This reaction supplements Hon. A. Ruzindana's comment in the Daily Monitor of July 27th entitled: "Once again a victim of Umeme bills delivery and disconnection rackets" Ofcourse, Hon. Ruzindana should thank God for being a former IGG and MP that puts him above the ordinary Ugandan. It's the reason why you were disconnected at 11am and reconnected at 3pm on the same day. Otherwise, that's unthinkable to many Ugandans who have suffered for months and years at the hands of UMEME and cannot get any justice or must buy it like your village-mate-Rwembawo.

As Ugandans, we must wake up now and ask where the problem is. As you know, the Electricity Act 1999 and other laws clearly provide that where a person is aggrieved by the electricity service provider(s), he or she is restricted to first lodge a complaint with Umeme before going to ERA. Thereafter, if is not satisfied, then you go to ERA, and from ERA, one can appeal to the Electricity Disputes Tribunal (EDT). If is still dissatisfied, can appeal to the High Court for redress. As you can see, the law clearly provides for the protection of consumers' rights, duties and obligations, but the suffering continues. Why? This should once again help us to appreciate that a law per se without good implementation can never benefit citizens.

The story of Hon. Ruzindana reminds me of my friend Mr. Herbert Rwembawo also of Kitintale. Rwembawo's electricity was disconnected by UMEME in March this year on allegations of bypassing a pre-paid meter. For your information, the said meter was neither in his house nor his compound. Instead, the meter was installed by UMEME on a top of the nearest electricity pole on other people's land-10 meters away from Rwembawo's place. When he was disconnected on 12 March, he run to UMEME-Kitintale office. There, UMEME told him to pay a fine of over UGX290,000/ and a reconnection fee in order to get his power back. In effect, Umeme as a prosecutor and judge in its own case condemned Rwembawo to a fine of 290,000/. After this injustice by Umeme, Rwembawo went to ERA for better justice. In record time of one day, ERA went and visited Rwembawo's house where they verbally agreed that Rwembawo had no control over the meter that was located on other people's land. They promised to get back to him in April but up to now despite several visits to ERA offices, Rwembawo is still waiting.

After this second frustration from ERA's inaction, Rwembawo appealed to the EDT in April 2012 and on 19th July, EDT met Mr. Rwembawo and Umeme's lawyer called Susan to plan the case. Rwembawo, a senior officer at Mulago Hospital had been told that unlike our traditional courts which delay cases, the tribunal is quick in delivering justice and is in place to help the poor who may not have capacity to hire lawyers and other costs. However, to his surprise, his case's hearing was fixed for 7th Sept 2012. Remember, Rwembawo has been in darkness since March and now must wait another 2 and half months to know his fate. This prompted Mr. Rwembawo to beg the tribunal to order Umeme to restore his power as they wait to complete the case. But UMEME objects to Rwembawo's request arguing that power can only be restored upon payment of the fine by Rwembawo. In the end, the tribunal asked Rwembawo either to pay Umeme's fine as security and get power in 2 days or stay in darkness until the case is resolved. Remember, the law provides that when there is a complaint on the same issue, a consumer should not be disconnected. But that is irrelevant to Umeme and the tribunal once again, allowing Umeme to abuse the law.

Rwembawo's predicament is similar to that of John Tugumisirize of Kabaale where Umeme installed a meter that would continue recording and accumulating bills even when the main switch would be switched off. For years, John endured paying huge bills even when he was using power only for lighting (six energy servers' bulbs). After years of suffering with the bills, he discovered that the problem was the meter and immediately reported to UMEME. He continued moving to Umeme several times pleading with them to go and solve the meter problem. But it took Umeme one year and 19 days to test the meter and when they did, they came at night, disconnected his power and took away the meter secretly. The following day, he went there to inquire if it was them who hard switched him off and taken the meter. Umeme confirmed that the meter was faulty by an error of 33.4%. Despite the error, they told him to pay a fine of UGX400,000/ in bills. Now, more than a year, John is in darkness and he has been moving between Kabaale and ERA/EDT. Remember, ERA and EDT only exist in Kampala.

These two cases are examples of the suffering electricity consumers are going through every day at the hands of Umeme, ERA and EDT. All these problems are happening amidst several electricity laws that provide for the functions, rights, duties and obligations of electricity consumers, regulators and providers.

For instance, the Grid Code Regulations 2003 provide that Umeme or any other service provider must bill a customer every month with mandatory actual billings at least once every 3 months. Unfortunately, the law does not state a penalty if Umeme fails to comply. Further, the Electricity Quality of Service Regulations provides that Umeme must give accurate and approved meters to consumers. But again, this law does not state the penalty to Umeme if it faults and that's why Umeme is punishing Tugumisirize who has been suffering from their faulty meter. The regulations also provide that apart from cases of emergency, planned maintenance, illegal use, meter tampering, meter by-pass, denial of access to meter, before any disconnection, Umeme must

  • § Give the consumer a written notice of the problem, allow the consumer 5 business days to rectify the problem, allow another 5 business days of a disconnection notice showing Umeme's intentions to disconnect the consumer.
  • § The law also provides that even when the above notices have been given, a customer should not be disconnected where he/she has made a related complaint to ERA, EDT, court or any arbitration and the complaint remains unresolved.
  • § The law also provides that no one should be disconnected after 3pm of a weekday, or on a Friday, weekend, public holiday or on a day before a public holiday

It's unfortunate that to day Ugandans are in a situation where they cannot differentiate their rights from favors while government agencies connive with private companies against the citizens.

Dickens Kamugisha

Chief Executive Officer

Africa Institute for Energy Governance