The judiciary and security forces in Bugisu region have promised to support Umeme in its bid to have power thieves prosecuted to curb the rampant vice of power theft and vandalism.
Speaking at the workshop between Umeme and Police, Directorate of Public Prosecution, and the Judiciary from the 12 districts in the Bugisu region, Paul Ssewava Ssempira, Umeme Mbale District Manager said prosecuting individuals caught in the act will make stealing power an expensive practice.
"Since August 2016, the Fagiya project achieved many milestones in the region; collections have improved from an average of 94% in 2015 to 100% in 2017, losses have dropped by 7% from an average of 55% in 2016 to 48% in 2017 and the number of new connections annually has more than doubled from 3,541 to 8,431," Ssempira said.
He said that due to Operation Fagiya, and Umeme's increased presence in the community, the methods of power theft have since evolved from the more obvious use of hooks to use of single source underground connections which are difficult to identify. Ssempira disclosed that the thieves have resorted to using hooks only at night.
“The current penalties more or less encourage people to commit the vice since they are not deterrent enough. We have arrested over 138 power theft suspects and produced them in Court of law, 18 pleaded guilty and none has been convicted," said Trevor Kigenyi, Umeme Regional Manager.
Kigenyi said the low success rate in court is attributed to the knowledge gap regarding the Electricity Act of 1999, its application and the legal remedies in dealing with those convicted of power theft.
“Although we have been lobbying to have the Electricity Act, 1999 amended to introduce tougher penalties to stop power theft, it is yet to be revised, "Kigenyi said.
Adding, the laws have to change to make power theft deterrent. Kenya has done it; power thieves pay up to KSH 1m in fines or jailed for up to 10 years," Kigenyi argued.
The workshop seeks legal interventions to end the vice, which Umeme says has stifled further investments in building new networks, connecting more consumers, improving service delivery and lowering the end-user tariffs due to revenue loss.
Currently, the penalty for power theft, if convicted, ranges from caution, community service to a maximum of UGX 2m fine or a three year jail sentence. These penalties for power theft and illegal connections in Uganda are among the lowest in East Africa.
It should also be noted that UMEME loses Ugx 100 billion every year in power theft and vandalism.