Transformers cost between $10,000 (sh37m and $20,000 (sh74m). “We are stuck. We cannot do anything, yet there are so many patients in need of our services. In business terms, we have lost so much money because of vandalism,” Mutebi says.
Suspected vandals being led to court
Dr. Mark Mutebi (not real name), runs a clinic in Mukono municipality. He offers laboratory services to the communities in and around the municipality.
Laboratory services and recordkeeping require computers, which are dependent on reliable electricity supply.
However, lately, Mutebi, like many other residents in the municipality, has not been a happy man after transformer vandals hit the area. Since January, they have left up to 41 transformers — 19 in and around Kampala and 22 upcountry — worth over sh1b, damaged.
Transformers cost between $10,000 (about sh37m and $20,000 (about sh74m). "We are stuck. We cannot do anything, yet there are so many patients in need of our services. In business terms, we have lost so much money because of vandalism," Mutebi says.
Umeme interventions The rampant vandalism of transformers is said to be high in Mukono municipality. This has moved power distributor Umeme to organise a stakeholder engagement workshop today at Ridar Hotel, Mukono to rally the communities to ﬁnd viable solutions to the vice. The meeting is a follow-up of a similar one conducted in March last year. It is targeting local and political leadership and the key security personnel.
Transformer vandalism is rampant because the thieves want its oil and copper components. The oil is used for cooking, as an additive to cosmetics, fuel in welding machines and furnaces and some use it to treat wounds.
The vandals also target feeder pillars, ring main unit covers, circuit breakers, stay supports, substation fences, underground cables and overhead conductors. Abby Gwaivu, the Umeme customer service engineering manager, says vandals target copper cables in the damaged transformers.
"The vice is rampant in Mukono, Banda, Nateete, Nakulabye, Metro and it is spreading to other areas in Kampala. Upcountry districts have also not been spared. We are engaging the communities to take ownership of the network infrastructure by protecting the transformers," Gwaivu says.
Costs incurred Umeme currently incurs costs running up to billions annually in replacing vandalised infrastructure. Vandalism has also been reported by telecommunication companies, the electricity transmission company, roads authority and local government property.
In the past, a number of vital distribution transformers for the Bweyogerere Industrial Park, Namanve and Mukono have been vandalised. Consequently, supply to Seeta, Mukono, Kalagi, Mbalala, Katosi, Naggalama, Nakifuma and
surrounding areas was interrupted for long hours, while Umeme teams replaced and repaired the damage. "This is frustrating and bogging down our efforts to refurbish the network for reliable supply.
The money we are spending in repairing and replacing vandalised equipment would have created a greater customer experience if it is injected in network refurbishment," Kalist Okello, the Umeme integrity manager, says.
He appeals to the public to report those engaged in power theft and vandalism to the nearest Police station or local authorities. "We need public support in ﬁ ghting this vice. More often than not, most of the unplanned outages experienced by our customers are a result of acts of vandalism," he says. Top Umeme ofﬁ cials have continuously said vandalism was pulling down progress
in infrastructure improvement. "Vandalism and power thefts are a national problem, which amounts to an economic crime. It frustrates our customers through prolonged power outages," Selestino Babungi, the Umeme
managing director, said recently, urging the Government to address the underlying problem across the affected sectors through deterrent legislation. Babungi says the continued theft and vandalism of the electricity
infrastructure is heavily costing the sector. On average, Umeme loses about sh100b annually in power theft and vandalism. Yet, a 1% energy loss reduction translates into about sh10b in saving.
Despite the huge loss to the economy, the current Electricity Act, 1999, is not deterrent enough to curb the vice. Okello explains that the penalties for power theft and illegal connections in Uganda range from caution, community service, to a maximum of sh2m ﬁ ne or a three-year jail sentence.
Okello says it is time to speak out and watch over your neighbour's activities since they can directly impact on your electricity supply reliability, the tariffs and more importantly your safety. "Truth is, you cannot have a reliable and safe power supply or lower tariffs when your neighbours are stealing power and vandalising the distribution infrastructure," he says.
Okello says vandalism of transformers affects Umeme's bottom-line by increasing operations costs. "Economically, customers may not run their businesses or light their homes," he says, adding: "The bulk of transformers are imported and their vandalism negates the company's network expansion drive, through replacement of vandalised equipment."
The company has an ant-vandalism strategy that includes use of State security services to detect and investigate the root causes of the menace. Culprits arrested in the act are brought to book. "We are engaging the legislators to amend the laws for stiffer penalties to the culprits. We also engage the community to safeguard these assets," Kalist Okello, the Umeme integrity manager, says.
Abby Gwaivu, the Umeme customer service engineering manager, says to eliminate vandalism, the utility company is in the process of testing for dry type transformers (without copper or oil) and those with aluminum windings. He says they also intend to use aluminum cables for transformer wiring. "We are also doing network modiﬁcation to relocate transformers from isolated areas," he says.