MASAKA — Vandals in western Uganda are now targeting new electricity lines, making off with parts valued at hundreds of thousands or millions.
The parts are later sold as spare parts on the black market.
“We have a challenge; vandals are targeting new lines. In the entire West, they have vandalised many new lines…” John Ssembatya, Umeme’s engineer in-charge of Masaka, Lyantonde, Mbarara, Kiruhura and Kisoro districts, said on Monday in Masaka, just over 100 kilometres west of Kampala.
Mr Ssembatya was responding to concerns raised by various security officers during a stakeholders’ engagement at Hotel Brovad, Masaka.
In many cases, vandalism of power infrastructure has led to the interruption of power supply to customers in the different areas where the infrastructure has been interfered with.
Additionally, it has also imposed additional yet avoidable financial cost on the power distribution company.
For instance, according to Umeme, trespassers destroy over 200 transformers belonging to Umeme, each costing at least UGX36 million.
During the engagement, many security officers they get demoralised when those they suspect and arrest for vandalism are either given light sentences or walk scot free.
In Lwengo District, security personnel arrested two suspects with 700 metres of aerial bundled conductor.
“They were arraigned in court. But as we talk, it is as if the punishment wasn’t given; the suspects are out. It frustrates those who participated in operations,” an internal security officer, said.
Umeme’s regional manager for Western Uganda said without the support of public officials, Umeme’s operations will be hard.
David Birungi, Umeme’s stakeholders’ manager, said the current penalties for power theft are not deterrent enough.
“Tell Members of Parliament that once the government tables the bill touching on power theft, include stiffer penalties for vandalism,” Mr Birungi said.
He said Uganda should emulate Kenya where those convicted of vandalising power infrastructure are fined KES3 million (approximately UGX103 million) or 15 years in jail or both.