14 June 2017

Uganda: Gulu Traders Heap Blame On Umeme for Power Blackouts

At the onset of the wet season in April, John Obita, 32, was optimistic that his fruit juice vending business would bring in a profit again.

That hope was hinged on power supply stabilizing in Gulu municipality. However, ever since the season started, this has not been the case for Obita. The persistent power blackouts have seen Obita counting one loss after another.

"When power was reliable, I would earn Shs 100,000 daily. Now that power is unstable, I only earn Shs 50,000 at most because the rest of my juice goes bad because I am unable to preserve it," Obita said.

To Obita, Umeme appears to have broken its promise on ensuring that power supply is stable. Jackline Apio, who sells second-hand clothes at Gulu main market, faces a similar challenge. Apio has been forced to leave the basement area of the building where she transacts business because rampant power blackouts make the area too dark for any customer to venture there.

"When power is off, it becomes so dark at the basement that you can't see. And so, we decide to work from outside [at the parking lot]," she adds.

Umeme Commercial Officer Wilson Egesa blames the current outages on the electricity poles in swampy places that continue to fall because their foundation is weak.

"Most power lines from Lango to Gulu are on soft soils in swampy areas and that is why we are keen on replacing all of them," he said, adding:

"Sometimes when it rains, we switch off the lines because the poles are likely to fall, while the other thing is that lightning is also common in northern Uganda."

Egesa noted that since March, they have so far replaced 160 poles, while another 100 poles need to be worked on to ensure that power supply is stabilized in Gulu town.

As an alternative measure, Egesa said Umeme is getting set to unveil a new project dubbed 'Ring Distribution,' where Gulu will have more power supply points rather than relying solely on the transmission lines from other districts.

"With ring distribution, power supply points will be installed around Gulu such that in case one [transmission line] gets a problem, other [transmission] lines can still provide power," Egesa adds.

Asked when they intend to start the project, Egesa said they were waiting for the government's approval before kicking it off. Gulu, at the moment, depends on only one power transmission line from Lira district's sub-station. Whenever that sub- station has a technical glitch, it takes about two weeks to rectify.

Claire Mugumya, the principal engagement officer at Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), urges power consumers to lodge complaints in case power outage gets 'critical,' adding that the authority is now trying to come up with forms of penalties aimed at punishing their licensees who fail to perform to standards.

"We are saying that if the power problem takes more than three days, our customers are free to file their complaints, and when this continues to happen, the licensees will face penalties based on certain standards if they fail to deliver," she said.

Mugumya, however, added that they will also be giving incentives to their licensees who perform well so as to improve on service delivery, although she didn't specify what kind.

Umeme's Egesa is now cautioning consumers who indulge in power thefts to desist from the vice as it is worryingly high in Gulu. Every month, Umeme loses at least Shs 60 million in revenue per month in Gulu due to power thefts.

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