Much as the President’s call is welcome, Ugandans will continue to face the challenge of high power tariffs because of the same arrangements like UMEME.
By Brian K Katabazi
In the March 12, 2018 letter to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Irene Muloni, President Museveni raised concerns on the UMEME concession and high power tariffs by directing the minister not to renew the contract and that the Inspector General of Government to carry out an investigation into the matter.
With such a directive, an ordinary Ugandan would not only think that the President is concerned, but also cares about them. Not to further divulge deep, I would like to invite Ugandans into the proceedings leading to UMEME's contract and transparencies upon awarding the contract.
In early 2005, five agreements, including the power sales and escrow, lease and assignment agreements and the power supply licenses between UMEME and the Government for the distribution of electricity across the country. This saw Uganda Electricity and Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) lease out all her assets to UMEME to enable it carry out rehabilitation, upgrade and expand on electrification for a 20-year period.
In 2009, merely four years after the contract, Gen. Salim Saleh committee was constituted to review the contract and reported that it was done not in good faith since it favoured UMEME at the expense of Ugandans and how UMEME was using faulty metres to cheat Ugandans. This report was not adopted, but instead ignored.
Ugandans felt and watched UMEME's operations continue without the Government's intervention after the Gen Saleh committee report until 2014, when the parliamentary committee established to investigate their dealings and operations recommended the termination of the contract. The committee recommendation received conflicting reactions; some in support and others against. The legal implication was that Uganda was to pay millions of shillings, if was the contract was to be terminated. The question paused was whether the line ministry wouldn't have adequate measures to save them.
The President's directive coming after nearly 13 years into UMEME cheating on Ugandans through exorbitant tariff charges and fares is a high level of deception from the people we entrusted with power.
The prudent role of the Attorney General is to review agreements and contracts on behalf of the people hence protecting the interests of the Government.
Much as the President's call is welcome, Ugandans will continue to face the challenge of high power tariffs because of the same arrangements like UMEME. Ugandans need to know that even with the Bujagali contract signed, they will pay approximately US cents 12 per kilowatt of electricity generated. This is one of the highest power prices worldwide. This tells us of how we are not about get relieved of the high power tariffs. We have also reached an extent of paying for the power we are not consuming as Ugandans. Imagine with the President's knowledge, we are paying for thermal power we are not consuming.
There are many of such dealings/ contracts between private firms and the Government and Ugandans continue to pay the price. We need to come up and hold the office bearers accountable. I call upon Ugandans to speak up and save country exorbitant arrangements between the Government and private firms.
The writer is associate director of the Centre for Energy Governance