New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Nagenda Misleading On Umeme

opinion

After last week's Saturday Vision hit the street, I received a barrage of SMS saying renowned columnist John Nagenda, had taken off his gloves for a bare knuckle fight with Umeme at the outages that power consumers experienced last week.

Nagenda's article titled: 'Uganda to Umeme: Enough' castigated Umeme in a number of ways that do not accurately represent the company and its performance since 2005.

He refers to the ownership of Umeme as being South African; however, the majority shareholder is Actis - a private equity investor firm of British nationality.

The minority shareholders (39.3%) of Umeme are made up of highly reputable institutional investors like the National Social Security Fund and the International Finance Company alongside 6,483 local Ugandan shareholders.

What evidently irked Nagenda was the outage that customers experienced as well as the support from our contact centre.

I would like to apologise to Nagenda and to all our customers, who have been inconvenienced and dissatisfied. We are committed to continuous improvement. The outages being experienced are caused by one of the following;

Planned maintenance. We are obliged to carry out this work in close collaboration with the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company to improve the quality of supply.

Line construction and refurbishment. In 2012, we carried out extensive works replacing poles and cables in the country.

We reinforced lines from Kampala to Lugazi to meet the rapid industrialization in Mukono and there are still areas in dire need.

Adverse weather conditions that many times bring down trees, poles and break conductors. Nagenda questions, "...surely Umeme should have purchased the necessary equipment to forestall this..." but like many electricity providers the world over, we are not able to forestall acts of nature.

We do, nevertheless, equip ourselves to be able to respond in the shortest possible time to emergencies. Umeme endeavours to communicate to customers to reassure them we are attending to outages.

Power theft and vandalism has reached totally unacceptable levels. Kenya, on her part, has recently introduced the Stature Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2012, which has enhanced penalties to a minimum fi ne of Ksh5m or a jail term of not less than 10 years or both for anyone convicted of vandalism or using power illegally.

Uganda urgently requires a similar legislation, if we are going see a reduction in outages and deaths caused by people electrocuted by illegal connections.

Since Umeme secured the license in 2005, it has invested more than $130m in network, line and infrastructure refurbishment as well as the construction of new substations like the sh10b Lubowa substation due for completion next week.

This particular investment will bring relief to residents along Entebbe Road, who have had numerous outages caused by the expeditious developments in the area. Umeme delivered on all targets set by the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) as part of the Concession Agreement against which the seven-year review determined the viability of the contract.

These include: Bringing down electricity losses from 35% to 28% by March 2012 - We achieved  27.2%.

Invest a minimum of $65m by March 2012 - We delivered $130m, certified by ERA.

Grow customer numbers - from less than 300,000 in 2005 to now over 500,000 people connected.

Grow sales of power - from 1,000GWh in 2005 we are currently at 1,735GWh.

Improve revenue collections from 70% - we are averaging 98% monthly.

Bring down new connection time. We are able to connect new customers within five days but regularly achieve one day connections on completion of all formalities.

Umeme introduced prepayment metering in Kitintale, Luzira and Bugolobi and now Natete - 20,000 customers are using this system.

Umeme has used technology to improve the customer experience, and in July 2012 launched Umeme Touchpay that enables an assortment of platforms to easy payment of bills. Customers can also register online or in any of our 33 offi ces around the country to receive their eBill.

Finally, Umeme remits to Uganda Electricity Transmission Company over $30m monthly on a specifi ed nonnegotiable date demonstrating Umeme is meeting its obligations to the Government.

This makes electricity generation an attractive offering for investors, so the Government's strategy to make the sector self-sustaining is paying off.

Umeme is committed to delivery of better and modern customer service.

Henry Rugamba head of communications, Umeme

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