Electricity distributor, UMEME, yesterday had a rough time while interfacing with Members of Parliament on the Natural Resources Committee.
The legislators accused the company of keeping the price of electricity high as it supplies domestic, commercial and industrial consumers.
The Committee members led by the chairperson Alex Byarugaba of Isingiro North noted some industries have closed doors in Uganda due to high electricity tariffs but also were not happy that only 20 percent of the rural areas have electricity. “I have an MP whose constituency has never seen any line of electricity,” Byarugaba said.
The MPs argued that they have the mandate to scrutinize UMEME because they represent 38 millions Ugandans in over 200 constituencies. “We represent the interests of people in 240 constituencies,” Byarugaba said.
The MPs also castigated Energy Minister Irene Muloni for failing to appear at the meeting held at Lake Victoria Serene Hotel, Kigo. They said minister Muloni’s failure to appear before them was disrespect to the committee.
Minister Muloni had sent in a technical officer to explain UMEME activities but the official was undermined by the MPs, saying they wanted the minister who is the political head of the sector to appear. The official found it difficult to present his paper as the rowdy MPs shouted at him.
They asked him if what he had come to present was the speech from minister Muloni to which the official replied in the negative.
The MPs decried the high rate of losses, currently estimated at 16.9, saying that for every one percent the government spends USD400m. UMEME CEO says the target for this year is to bring the energy losses to 14.8 percent through the purchase of strong conductors and use of pre-paid meters.
The MPs who are investors in UMEME via their parliamentary pension fund caused arguments when they said that UMEME does not have shares in the business, it was hard to convince them that UMEME is a public listed company on the Uganda Securities Exchange and Nairobi Securities Exchange.
Those who argued that government takes over UMEME were saddened by the news that for the takeover to happen government has to compensate the company with USD330 million and that money cause more misery to the taxpayer, worsened by the fact that for government to take over UMEME which runs a 20-year concession since March 2005, it has to spend USD 100 million annually, which money government does not have.
The members also accused UMEME of installing prepaid meters that they say cheat consumers of their money, something UMEME guys found it hard to explain.