In April 2015, a transformer at Nauyo Primary School was pulled down by Umeme staff in Mbale after it developed technical faults. 4 months down the road, it has never been replaced and over 1,000 homesteads in the area remain in a blackout today; hundreds of small-scale businesses are on the verge of collapsing while many, have closed shop.
During my recent visit to the area, I met 5 youth who narrated to me how they jointly rented a room in April to operate a hair saloon. The power went off before they would even start working. Now, their 3-months rent has expired and they do not have any more money to renew their tenancy agreement. A dream has been washed away; and no one seems to care.
At the backdrop of this are unconfirmed reports making rounds amongst the residents that the Area Manager of Mbale office, Adison Arinaitwe has vowed never to restore power in Nauyo, a suburb located within 2 kilometers off Mbale town because of the problem of illegal connections.
Two weeks ago, I put this to Adison during a phone call. He denied having such a stand but acknowledged that replacement of the transformer was overdue.
He further acknowledged that cases of illegal connections notwithstanding, there are hundreds of genuine clients in the area who deserve reliable access to electricity.
If he appreciates this fact, why then does Nauyo continue to remain in a blackout and little clearly seems to be done about it?
Is it because most of the residents are not on twitter to drive a #BringBackOurTransformer hashtag? We all know how swiftly many transformers have been replaced when the pressure mounts online or traditional media runs a story on it.
On his part, the manager argues that they are in the final stages of installing three separate transformers to minimize illegal connections that are made easier by the sole transformer. However, this is the same message I got from a staff at the Umeme office way back in May. It is nothing new.
Since April 15th, I have been engaging Umeme office on twitter with no much success. The last message I received was on May 5th, “Our area team is working on the replacement and getting more transformers but requests for your patience.” read a tweet from Umeme handle. To date, no transformer is in place. Further information requests have gone answered,
On May 25th, I sent an email to Henry Rugamba about the same. With the little that I know about him, I have no qualms that he did his part and duly communicated. However, still nothing has been done. Nada.
Power theft is not a new problem and neither does it occur in Nauyo alone. It is an existent drawback that needs to be addressed and there are clear means within which such a problem can be dealt with. Denying genuine clients access to electricity within certain environs is not and should not be construed to be one of them. Nauyo has a Uganda Police Post and hence enforcement should not be a problem if the will is there.
Further, acknowledging the exorbitant costs of replacing a transformer, I am alive to the fact that these costs are often transferred to the final consumer of electricity at the tariff front and are not exclusively covered by Umeme. The rationale is that Umeme is a profit-oriented company and yet citizens must access this service.
The apparent actions by the Umeme staff to neglect restoring power to Nauyo and such related cases countrywide epitomise a contravention of Umeme’s business commitment to the core value of customer satisfaction. It denotes a failure to deal with customers promptly and efficiently.
More fundamentally, these actions breach the mission to deliver quality supply of electricity to customers and does not in any way enhance the mission to improve the relationship between the electricity utility and its customers. It smacks of social injustice being perpetuated with impunity or negligence; not deliberately by the company but by a few folks in positions of authority.
The irony about all this is that Umeme is mandated to continue to serve residents with power bills which reflect service charges of Ushs. 3,472 and 18% VAT monthly. This amount has accumulated over the last 5 months.
How it all began
In late March 2015, residents apparently reported to Umeme Mbale office a problem of unstable power supply along one line which was accessing the supply via the same transformer. The staff visited the scene with an apparent intention of repairing the problem. While they were attending to it, all the other lines also went off. They then disconnected the entire transformer, left Nauyo in a blackout.
In April 2015, they returned and pulled down the transformer and went with it to have it repaired.
To date, they have never replaced the transformer.
On July 18th 2015, distressed residents held a meeting at Nauyo Primary School to plot for a way forward. The area LC III Chairperson attended. As a way forward, members resolved to write a protest letter while others strongly called for a peaceful protest to express their utter dissatisfaction with the conduct in which the staff of Umeme at Mbale are handling this matter. All these folks are really asking for is power to be restored in the area immediately.
Is that too much to ask?