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Umeme Calls for Sensitization on Power Payment

In March several people using the prepaid electricity system, Yaka complained that they have been made to pay the 3,660 monthly service fees twice a month. Others got as little power as 0.5 kWh (units) for 10,000 Shillings, instead of the average usual of 20 units.

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A senior official at electricity supplier, Umeme Ltd, has called for the education of the public on consumption and payment for power.

This comes amid fresh complaints that the company is ripping off customers by charging them for the power they have not consumed.

In March several people using the prepaid electricity system, Yaka complained that they have been made to pay the 3,660 monthly service fees twice a month. Others got as little power as 0.5 kWh (units) for 10,000 Shillings, instead of the average usual of 20 units.

However, Umeme via its social media accounts explained that during a recent system migration, clients were erroneously under-billed by the system and given more power than was paid for.

For this reason, when the customer pays money for new units, the company first deducts what they are calling a debt.

“There was a double charge of service fee on your account during our system migration, during the payments your account got the 15 discounted units of 250 Shillings twice.

The service fee is being refunded. However, at the same time we are recovering the money worth the units”, says one of the responses.   

Since Umeme took over the function from the former Uganda Electricity Board following the privatization of the sector and de-bundling of the board, customer complaints have persisted of being overcharged.  

When the government introduced the pre-paid system, it was believed that it would solve the complaints of overbilling.  However, this is yet to be realized 6 years after Yaka was introduced.  

The Director of Stakeholder Relations, David Birungi says it is wrong for customers to compare their purchases without considering the regularity of their payments or comparing with other customers.

He says, the first instalment will always attract more units because it is on this installment that the customer gets a discount on the first 15 units, which cost 250 Shillings each. 

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Birungi also explains that sometimes, one pays but do not get their tokens, especially those who prefer playing on the first day of a calendar month, which he says is always crowded and people do not get their tokens.

Richard Henry Kimera, the Executive Director Consumer Education Trust, says there is a complex problem at Umeme that cannot be solved by the customer service people.

“The whole system at Umeme needs an audit to determine whether the mishaps are done intentionally by the billing officers, or someone is manipulating their IT systems to divert money, or the system itself is faulty.” 

Dickens Kamugisha, the Executive Director of Africa Institute for Energy Governance, AFIEGO, says some of these hiccups are intentionally created by corrupt Umeme staff but blames the government for failing to act.  

“You have a government whose interest is only in the taxes paid by the contractor and other material benefits accruing from the contract. Even if the laws are in place for the good of the sector and the consumer, it is not likely to enforce anything,” he says.

However, Birungi defends Umeme saying that Yaka uses a model that is used in several other countries that use pre-paid systems, but says there is a need for Umeme, the Electricity Regulatory Authority and The Ministry to sensitize people about the sector.  

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Umeme also attributes failure by a customer to get their tokens after paying, to the high traffic encountered especially at the beginning of each month.

“The pre-paid system also needs upgrading and the process is ongoing after approval by the regulator. The number of customers was about 400,000 when Umeme installed the Yaka system in 2011. It has since grown to 1.6 million”, said Birungi.

But Kamugisha says the laws that the govern electricity sector must be amended to allow the government to regulate it better. He adds that the contract signed between Umeme and the government had many errors and the government negotiators seem to have either missed out on some details or committed the mistakes intentionally.

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