By Irene Abalo Otto
GULU. Authorities and the business community in Gulu District have taken issues with Umeme, price accusing the power distributor of failing development in the region due to erratic and persistent power failures.
During a stakeholders meeting with local leaders and the business community in Gulu, pills on Tuesday, more about George Labeja, Gulu municipal council mayor, questioned what Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) was doing in Gulu “after leaving people to suffer with power outages” that has affected large scale investments in the municipality.
“We have issues here with power outages and the investors are running away because our power is not stable. Businesses are incurring losses. This town can go for two to three straight days without electricity,” Labeja said.
Labeja sid Umeme has had many issues in Gulu, including the current row over shifting electric polls erected in the middle of roads or road reserves that is to cost the municipal over Shs16 million to pave way for a Japanese project to fund road construction project.
Labeja said the cost was too high for the municipality to foot.
“Sometimes Umeme sends contractors to erect the polls without consulting the municipal to see our plans or supervising the work and when the polls are on the road, we are the ones again to pay to have them removed. Is that fair?” he asked.
“You either reduce the cost or you face the loss. You [Umeme] should make sure we do not miss this Japanese grant. The Shs68 billion is too big for us to lose in developing our town. Sit and review this exorbitant costing by Umeme so that the polls are removed to pave way for development.”
Umeme pleads for understanding
Wilson Egessa, Umeme manager for Gulu District, told the meeting that they are constrained by finances as indicated by their regulator, ERA, to remove the unspecified number of polls that are hindering road constructions within the municipality.
“Roads fall under Ministry of Transport and that of Land and for us we are in the energy sector. We are also required not to exceed a certain limit in our expenditures. It is not that Umeme is failing this development. However, we can still note it and see how it can be addressed,” Egessa said.
Gulu Municipal Council has until June 27 to comply with the requirements for the grant as inspection will be done by Japanese delegates before signing the contract on July 1.
Umeme Limited handles distribution of power for over 90% of electricity users in the country, while Eskom, a South African firm, Eskom operates the Kiira and Nalubaale hydropower stations, which, combined, have an installed capacity of 380 megawatts.
Uganda privatised electricity under the energy sector in 1999 to allow private sector participation after disbanding Uganda Electricity Board that was operating at a loss. The sector has since 2000 been under watch of Electricity Regulatory Authority.
According to Capt Santos Okot Lapolo, Gulu Resident District Commissioner, ERA has to make its presence known among electricity consumers so that people stop looking at Umeme as the only energy player in the sector to have issues resolved amicably.
“You are there in Kampala but people don’t know you here where your service is needed most. Gulu is a fast growing town and Umeme has failed to meet the demands of their consumers here because their electricity has become like disco light,” Lapolo said.
Lapolo wondered why Lira has 132KV supply while Gulu, with a higher demand, has only 33KV.
Last week, leaders in Gulu municipality foiled and attempt by the business community to protest at Umeme office after inconsistent power supply for three days.
Dorothy Waniala, the ERA public affairs officers, told our reporter that they have a challenge with having only one office to manage their licensee activities and have taken note of complaints raised in Gulu as their way forward.
Wanyana said there should not be any power outages at the moment considering that the country now generates over 600MW of electricity.
Meanwhile, Egessa assured stakeholders of efforts being made by Umeme to stabilise power supply in Gulu town.