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.
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
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
“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”,
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.