By Aminah Elizabeth Namuddu
Evidence demonstrates that electricity access has the potential to increase income, improve health, education, and decrease poverty. Access to quality and reliable electricity services creates potential for small business ventures and enhances the delivery of social services such as education and health, which ultimately triggers the socio-economic transformation that the Country is committedly pursuing.
Uganda’s access to Clean Energy currently stands at 58 per cent, encompassing grid and off-grid connections as well as household solar systems. The Government of Uganda aims to achieve 60 per cent electricity access by 2040.
A key fundamental of Vision 2040, which took effect in 2013, is the development of infrastructure in the energy, transport, water, oil, and gas sectors because the lack of this impedes the implementation of programs crafted to deliver the Country from peasantry to middle-income status.
In its Manifesto 2021 – 2026, the NRM Government prescribes the Parish Development Model (PDM) as one of the approaches to enable inclusive, sustainable, balanced, and equitable socio-economic transformation. Conceived under the third National Development Plan (NDP III), the PDM, among others, purposes to deepen the decentralization process and improve household incomes.
The model stands on seven pillars, key among which is the development of infrastructure and systems to support the processing and marketing of Uganda’s agricultural products.
According to the WorldData.info database, Uganda is approximately 241,038 kilometres. Compared to the power transmission grid length, which currently stands at only 3,431 kilometres, more effort is needed to expand the network to ensure universal access to electricity services.
Amendment of the Electricity Act
On 15th May 2022, His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Uganda, assented to the amendment of the Electricity Act, 1999, Chapter 145 of the Laws of Uganda. Subsequently, the amendment was published in the Uganda Gazette Vol. CXV No. 32, and in 2023, implementation of the new provisions commenced.
The major objective of the amendment was to address limitations in the Electricity Act 1999 to achieve the Electricity sub-sector’s desired efficiency. Therefore, the amendment is a notable milestone with regard to the implementation of the Parish Development Model.
The new provisions, among others, include the introduction of private investment into the transmission segment and deterrent penalties for offences related to power theft and vandalism of Electricity Infrastructure.
The Transmission segment of the Electricity supply chain has been a preserve of the government through the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), facilitated by the single-supplier model. This has been a significant hindrance to the timely construction of transmission infrastructure to evacuate generation plants mainly due to constraints in funding occasioned by reliance on donations and the national budget.
The delays have also impacted access as a result of the failure to expand the grid to deliver power to communities with ready demand for electricity. However, the amendment of the Act has allowed the private sector into this space.
Relatedly, the Electricity sub-sector continues grappling with electricity infrastructure vandalism and theft of power. The two vices account for humongous losses to the Industry.
In 2019 and 2020 alone, the Country lost over 260 billion shillings to these vices and an unaccountable loss to the business community that heavily relies on electricity. Besides the loss of revenue, vandalism frustrates efforts to expand the grid, accelerate access to electricity services, and provide quality and reliable power supply, especially in rural areas.
On several occasions, the 400kV Karuma-Olwiyo and 132kV Karuma-Lira Transmission lines meant to connect the West Nile region to the grid, a much-anticipated solution to the power supply problems in the region, have been vandalized, creating serious delays in the completion of the project.
As opposed to the previous penalty provisions, including a penalty of twenty currency points and a two-year jail term for the two vices, the amendment has heightened the penalties to one hundred currency points (roughly Shs 1 billion) and/or a jail sentence of 12 years or 15 years for repeat offenders. This is expected to deliver a serious signal to the offenders and minimize these crimes.
Increased investment in the transmission infrastructure facilitated by private sector participation and reduced cases of vandalism occasioned by punitive measures provided by the new law are expected to promote universal access to electricity.
The increased access will enable more Ugandans at the parish level to set up business ventures and grow their income, ultimately reducing unemployment, triggering wealth creation, and eradicating poverty, thus delivering the intent of the PDM. Therefore, the amendment of the Electricity Act is a huge milestone with regard to the Country’s growth agenda.
The writer is a Senior Communication Officer at the Electricity Regulatory Authority.