Following the passing of Uganda’s new Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022 on Wednesday, Ugandans found guilty of vandalizing electricity infrastructure may face a fine of $283,764.96 (Shs 1-billion) or a 15-year jail sentence, just five years short of the Ugandan life sentence term of 20 years.
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 at an increased rate.
According to the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, the object of the bill is to, among other things, provide deterrent penalties for theft of electricity and vandalism of electrical facilities, provide for the membership and funding of the Electricity Disputes Tribunal, provide for additional functions of the authority, as well as 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 the Ugandan government.
According to the East African country’s parliament, the bill 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, Emely Kugonza said the penalty for interference with meters and electrical lines, vandalism and illegal connections should be increased from the previously set amount of $28.36 (Shs100,000) or imprisonment for one year to $1,134.76 (Shs4-million) or ten-year imprisonment or both for receiving vandalized electrical facilities, repeated vandalism and interference with electrical works.
However, other Members of Parliament said the punishment should be prohibitive suggesting an increase in the fines as damaged infrastructure may cause much higher fees for repairs and faults as well as the social implications of failing electricity supply.
The Attorney General, Kiryowa Kiwanuka defended the need for the hefty penalties, saying “The people taking down the power lines and other infrastructures are not the common people down there. These vandals are very sophisticated people. So we need to make the law very deterrent.”
Other Changes Brought by the Bill
On the removal of the monopoly of distribution of electricity, the committee observed that government owns the largest dams, transmission and distribution assets in the country and 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 the 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 Yoweri 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 taxpayers.
“It is, therefore, inconceivable how companies that survive on taxpayers’ 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 for the Electricity Regulatory Authority.