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Government frustrating free electricity connections – Umeme

UGANDA – Electricity utility company Umeme has faulted the government for the low connections of households under the free connections program.

In March, this year, the government allocated Shs.14.2 billion to fund the household electricity project through the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL).

By March this year, the Rural Electrification Agency had procured more than 90,098 connection materials under the African and Islamic Development Bank with at least 110,687 households expected to be connected in the 1st phase funding.

Umeme expected to connect 87,500 houses majorly focusing outside Kampala, Jinja, and Entebbe districts which would consume about 60,000 meters. While those in the three administrative areas will consume 20,000 meters.

Speaking to our reporter, Celestine Babungi, the Managing Director Umeme Uganda Limited says, they have received 250,000 applicants and have not yet made connections due to lack of funding from the central government.

Babungi says that there’s need for the government to release funding so that the backlog of over 250,000 applications are connected.

He says on average they receive more than 1000 new applications for free electricity daily, yet they only have 87,500 connection materials which is a ‘drop in the ocean.’

According to Babungi, as a result of the delayed release of funds by the government, they have been left in a tricky position which has seen people illegally connecting to the grid stealing power which poses more life and property threats.

“We are waiting for funding to connect you, and we can’t connect quarter a million customers, that is very significant. We received materials in one batch to connect 87,000 customers, but let’s not forget that we are receiving 1000 applications every day, so we see the 87,000 we have received as a drop in the ocean to clear the 250,000 in the backlog as we receive more applications. And we see the challenge that people are going through to connect themselves to the grid leading to safety incidents, power theft,” explained Babungi.

Babungi says that plans are underway to meet the Natural Resources Committee to plan and ensure funds are allocated in the new financial year so that the connections can continue.

In Gulu City, 13,000 people have applied for the free electricity connection but none has been connected.

Alfred Okwonga, the Gulu City Mayor, in a recent interview says that only 21.7% of Gulu City’s population had been connected to electricity. This he says has left thousands of residents resorting to acquiring solar which only meets the lighting needs and other household needs.

Geofrey Oceng Osborn, the Amuru Resident District Commissioner (RDC) says, most of the town councils in Amuru district are yet to be extensively connected to electricity.

He says as a result, many youths have been left redundant and resorting to petty crimes instead of venturing into projects such as welding among others which would have boosted their financial capacity.

Patricia Alitho, the Head of Communications at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development says, free connections resumed in March this year but with some adjustments which among others include; allowing applicants who can afford payment to do so while those who can’t will have to follow the procedures.

“We initially were not allowing any applicant to pay where you wait for the government but it became impractical, but with the resumption of the policy, we started with the backlog. Because when we resumed in March, there were over 200,000 applicants. So, it can look like the thing is at a standstill because now we need to start with the backlog,” says Alitho.

Alitho says connections are ongoing but with priority to the more than 200,000 pending applicants before other new applicants can benefit.

According to Alitho, the government has taken steps to address the seemingly stagnant and slow connection of Ugandans. She notes that, last month, they received more than 45,000 connection materials from the French Development Agency.

The Electricity Connection Policy was at first implemented in November 2018 before being suspended in December 2020 after the government’s failure to secure funds to pay service providers.

More than 240,000 customers had been connected in the two years despite a target of 300,000 households annually and a long-term ambitious goal of achieving 60% access to grid electricity by 2027. Ugandans’ access to the grid currently stands at around 27%.

Some of the service providers, before the suspension of the programme, were demanding from the government through Rural Electricity Agency (REA) Shs.103.4 billion with Umeme claiming about Shs.84.2 billion of which Shs.42 billion being paid by June this year.

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