By Doris Atwijukire
Recently, there have been media reports of how a crosssection of people using prepaid meters are unhappy with the UMEME billing system, arguing that they pay more money and get less electricity units than they have actually paid for. And that the units run out fast.
However, Umeme dismissed the claims. The company insists the new meters are effective. Umeme attribute such claims to either the customer had arrears from the time of conversion from a post paid to yaka, which Umeme recovers 40% every time the customer makes a purchase of yaka token or the 30 units of power Umeme advances to a customer at the time of conversion to yaka, which also Umeme recovers on every purchase made, until it is cleared.
Yaka, as it is commonly known, might not be the problem. Umeme has not sensitised the public about the project. Not everybody has a TV or access to internet where Umeme advertises from.
A month ago, I was one of the Umeme customers to be connected on the new prepaid meters that will be rolled out across the country. I like the convenience, though. However, Umeme connected me when I had not yet signed with them the transfer forms, on top of accessing my premises-my house without my knowledge-only to find my chairs stepped on, changed position that Umeme was doing its work.
Like me, majority of Ugandans have been converted to yaka without signing the transfer forms. This means Umeme forces its customers to convert from post paid to prepaid system. Therefore, such people shouldn’t even pay for the 30 units of power Umeme advances to a customer, because not consenting; means Umeme decided to give me the units for free.
When Umeme was taken over by international company Actis, the promise was to turn around Uganda’s power sector. Unfortunately, this has not translated into benefits for Ugandans for whom Umeme has, over the years, become synonymous with unfair billing, load shedding, rampant neglect of the over 500,000 customers’ needs and now the ‘faulty’ prepaid meters all telling evidence of Umeme’s lack of commitment to delivering quality services to Ugandans.
Thanks to a concession agreement Umeme entered into with the Government that provides more or less absolute protection to Umeme, the electricity distribution company seems invincible despite failing to deliver the promise of better electricity to Ugandans.
For the past three years, the suburbs that have so far been connected include Bugolobi, Kiswa, Mbuya, Kataza, Kinawataka, Kitintale, Luzira, Mutungo, Biina, Portbell, Busega, Kibumbiro, Natete, Wakaliga, Lungujja and Conversions are ongoing in areas of Naguru, Ntinda-Kigowa, Kisasi, Kulambiro, Najera, Buwate, Kiwatule and parts of Naalya. But reports of numerous complaints from over 20,000 customers connected to the new system have been piling on Umeme’s desk that the prepaid meters jam occasionally, people do not receive the full units for the money paid and units run at a break neck-speed. All this is a clear indication that people lack information about the Umeme new prepaid meter system.
As power consumers, we shall not have confidence in the new billing system as an accurate one. We urge Umeme to sensitise the public about the project as well as ERA and UNBS to come on board and assure Ugandans that the meters are tested and very accurate. If Umeme has guaranteed that all the prepaid meters being used are tasted by UNBS and carry its(UNBS)’s seal, only then that we would have confidence and probably support the Yaka project.
The writer works with Africa Institute for Energy Governance