A Shs1 billion fine or a 15 years jail term awaits anyone who is found guilty of vandalizing electricity infrastructure following the passing of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022. Legislators passed the Bill on Wednesday, 13 April 2022.
This passing of the bill comes at a time when the country has been experiencing vandalism of power lines, transformers, poles and other related infrastructure.
The object of the bill is to among others, provide for deterrent penalties for theft of electricity and vandalism of electrical facilities, provide for the membership and funding of the Electricity Disputes Tribunal, and to provide for additional functions of the authority; to increase funds allocated to the ERA from 0.3 per cent to 0.7 per cent of the revenue received from generated electrical energy.
The bill also seeks to prescribe the circumstances under which a holder of a generation or transmission licence may supply electricity to persons other than a bulk supplier to industrial parks at a tariff determined by government.
This will eliminate Umeme, the power distribution company, in service territories where it is not licensed and in effect implement the presidential directive of selling power at a tariff that eliminates the expensive distribution costs Umeme.
While presenting the report of the Committee of Environment and Natural Resources on the Bill, the Deputy Chairperson, Hon. Emely Kugonza said the penalty for interference with meters and electrical lines, vandalism and illegal connections should be increased from Shs100, 000 or imprisonment for one year to Shs4 million or a ten-year imprisonment or both for receiving vandalized electrical facilities, repeat vandalism, and interference with electrical works.
However, Members of Parliament said the punishment should be prohibitive suggesting an increase in the fines.
Hon. Milton Muwuma (NRM, Kigulu County South) said that it is necessary to increase the penalties to counter the mushrooming scrap dealers who always source their raw material from vandalism of state property.
“These people vandalize meters, poles and transformers putting the country at a loss. The penalty on vandalism should even be higher than Shs4 million,” he said.
Bugweri County Members of Parliament, Hon. Abdu Katuntu said that there is disrespect of public property calling for ‘a strong punishment on people perpetrate the act’.
Citing the vandalism of the chain link fencing constructed around the Kampala- Entebbe Expressway, Katuntu said serious punishments should be meted on the culprits.
“We need very strong and deterrent measures to curb some members of the public from vandalizing public property. These people need to be scandalized and therefore, the fine should be a minimum of Shs5 million,” Katuntu added.
The Attorney General, Hon. Kiryowa Kiwanuka said defended the need for the hefty penalties.
“The people taking down the power lines and other infrastructure are not the common people down there. These vandals are very sophisticated people. So we need to make the law very deterrent,” he said.
The Chairperson of the Committee, Hon. Emmanuel Otaala defended the penalties saying that a single electricity tower costs Shs300 million and when cut down, it affects to other towers which cost should be met by the vandal.
On the removal of monopoly of distribution of electricity, the committee observed that government owns the largest dams, transmission and distribution assets in the can by policy use the leverage to sell power to industries at a low cost as currently planned in industrial parks.
“Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited already has in-house capacity and thus should also be given the responsibility of distributing power to industries in the industrial parks at a tariff determined by government,” the committee report read in part adding that, ‘UMEME’s concession that has 35 months to go would not allow another distributor to enter industrial parks except by an Act of Parliament’.
Recently, President Museveni issued a directive that Presidential power should be sold directly to industries at a tariff that eliminates the expensive distribution costs of Umeme. He said this will spur economic growth through industrialization.
The committee dropped the proposal of listing the successor companies of the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) on the stock exchange arguing that three companies continue to acquire debt and assets through financing by tax payers.
“It is therefore, inconceivable how companies that survive on tax payers loan repayments can issue shares and securities for the private sector to acquire a stake in them,” Kugonza said.
The committee also proposed an increase in funding of the Electricity Regulatory Authority.