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The Electricity (Amendment) Bill

Growing up, I remember this particular neighbour I had who would steal electricity from the only hotel in the neighbourhood. The fiasco that followed after they were caught was quite a sight . The entire village was amazed at how power could be stolen. I’ve always wondered what happened to those neighbours after that, but I am pretty sure that they probably did it again. While the theft of electricity is a major concern today, it is not the only reason why the bill was proposed. 

The Electricity (Amendment) Bill was tabled on 14 January 2022 before parliament. It intends to amend the Electricity Act cap. 145 that was enacted in 1999, removing the present inconsistencies, introducing flexibility in its implementation and streamlining operations of the electricity sector.

There have been several changes in the electricity sector since then, the Act however does not effectively address issues of institutional responsibilities and efficiency, enforcement of compliance, and does not have adequate penalties for theft of electrical energy and vandalism of electrical facilities among other things.

The purchase of all electricity generated in Uganda is performed by a single institution whose network does not cover the whole country. On top of that, any successor companies to the Uganda Electricity Board are mandated to report to the Minister for finance and not the Minister responsible for electricity. This has been an obstacle to the management of electricity throughout the country at large. Therefore calls a need for this bill to be created.

Below are some of the key amendments for which the proposed Act seeks to address:

Owen Falls Dam. Credit: Travelistica

Electricity is really just organized lightning

George Carlin

a) An increase in funding to the Electricity sector.

The Act previously awarded a levy not exceeding 0.3% on revenue received from any generated electric energy. It is believed that this percentage of tax is not enough to supply electricity to the whole country. The bill seeks to add a 0.7% levy on income from services rendered by the authority. This is meant to ensure that the authority (the Electricity Regulatory Authority) has adequate funds to regulate the electricity industry by providing an additional source of funding to the authority.

b) A punishment for theft of Electricity. 

The Act awarded a fine not exceeding thirty currency points or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years to any person who was caught stealing or diverting energy from its proper source. The proposed bill suggests that this penalty be revised to increase the fine to twenty thousand currency points or imprisonment not exceeding ten years or both. Twenty Thousand currency points amount to 400 million Uganda shillings. Such a penalty is meant to be a deterrent causing to curb individuals who vandalise electrical facilities, steal electricity and interference with electrical works. 

c) Distribution of electricity

The Act allows the authority to designate a bulk supplier to transmit and sell electricity in bulk to distribution and sale companies whose terms will be specified in the sales licence. The bill however gives the authority the leeway to prescribe the circumstances under which a holder of a generation licence may supply the electricity in bulk to a holder of a distribution licence, transmission licence or directly to a specified class or category of customers. This means that any companies that distribute electricity are in every way accountable to the authority on how they will distribute the electricity they generate which was not the case before. The bill doesn’t limit electricity distribution to companies that supply in bulk but opens it up to a holder of a generation or transmission licence that may supply electricity to persons. This is to be done through a fair, open and competitive process. 

d) Dispute Resolution with Customers. 

Any person who is aggrieved by a decision or action may apply to the licensee for redress.  Disputes are bound to arise but the Bill outlines a procedure for complaints from customers to be addressed. The licensees are expected to develop dispute resolution procedures to address the complaints from customers before the complaints are referred to the Tribunal. If you have ever had a complaint with your electricity and your complaints have not been addressed, the bill puts these concerns to rest. 

e) The members of the Electricity Disputes Tribunal

The tribunal currently has three members according to the Act, and it is a requirement being that all three members be present for the tribunal to perform its functions. This however can cause a huge problem as to its effectiveness. The bill however has amended this and has increased the membership to seven in order to ensure the tribunal’s effective performance of its duties. I imagine that with the increase in membership, the required quorum will automatically change to allow the best delivery of service.