CSOs threaten to sue ERA, Umeme over ‘illegal electricity charges’

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Men connect electricity in Uganda.

Twenty-two Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have issued a notice of intention to sue the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) and Umeme over ‘illegal electricity charges’.

In the notice dated December 10, 2020 addressed to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) ERA, the CSOs punch holes in the letter dated December 8, 2020 in which the CEO wrote to all distribution licensees to implement increased connection charges.

Signed by the CEO Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Mr Dickens Kamugisha, the intention to sue says that the approved new connection charges and other decisions are against the laws of Uganda.

The approved costs for the new connections indicate that for one to be connected on different phases, they must pay more money than what used to be paid.

The CSOs say these are contravening with the laws of Uganda.

“We are concerned about some of the illegal decisions being made under your supervision and implemented by electricity distributors. You increased connection charges and made other decisions with huge impacts on Ugandans before consulting consumers. This violates the laws that require ERA to ensure transparency and accountability in the electricity sector,” the notice says.

The activists say the electricity company erred when the CEO said the company was implementing a policy directive by the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development provided for under Section 17 of the 1999 Electricity Act.

ERA’s decision bases on minister’s policy

All electricity distribution licensees are directed to allow consumers to pay for their connections, able and willing consumers shall be charged at the rates published by ERA from time to time, all consumers who had already made applications through the ECP shall be required to make top up payments in line with the new approves connection charges.

Consumers who had made applications under the ECP but do not have capacity to make top up payments shall be advised to wait until such a time when government has mobilised resources to finance the new connections as guided by the minister in the policy directive. .

“Your interpretation of Section 17 is wrong and illegal in as far as it creates an impression that ERA is not independent and is under obligation to follow the minister’s policy directive without reason. Your letter also talks about the challenges facing the Free Electricity Connections Policy (ECP) that was commenced in 2018 and goes ahead to ask distributors to breach contracts that were signed with Ugandans who had applied and paid inspection fees before implementation of the ECP was suspended”.

New approved costs

The approved costs for new connections include Shs576,773 and Shs610,918 for wired pre-paid split metre and wireless pre-paid split  metre and PLC respectively for no pole single phase connection, Shs2,031,325 to Shs3,445,256 for no pole three phase connection and Shs1,989,135 to Shs2,308,019 for one pole single phase connection.

For standardised labour and transport costs, one to be connected on a single phase with no pole has to pay Shs50, 000; single phase with one pole one has to pay Shs210, 000 while for three- phase with no pole one has to pay Shs90, 000.

It is against this background the CSOs argue that “the approved new connection charges and other related decisions are in violation of the 1999 Electricity Act and other laws.

“This letter, therefore, serves to demand that you immediately revoke the said directive and direct all electricity distributors to stop charging electricity consumers illegal connection charges.

Such CSOs as Action Coalition on Climate Change, Oil Refinery Residents Association, Environmental Governance Institute and African Initiative on Food security and Environment among others say ERA’s decision on the new electricity connection charges violates many provisions of the 1999 Electricity Act.

The law

The CSOs cite such provisions as Section 4 and Section 16 which establishes ERA and provides for its independence respectively.

“The law clearly provides that ERA shall, subject to the declared policy of government and, except as is otherwise provided in this Act, be independent in the performance of its functions and duties and exercise of its powers and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.

Section 17 provides for the powers of the minister where the said minister may give directions in writing to the authority with respect to the policy to be observed and implemented by the authority.

However, the same law provides that the minister’s policy directive shall not adversely affect or interfere with the performance of the functions and exercise of powers of ERA.

CSOs demands

The CSOs want the minister to immediately recall the policy directive on new connection charges, ERA should immediately revoke the new connection charges, UMEME should immediately stop implementing the new connection charges and customers who complied with the ECP and applied for power before the ECP was suspended must be supplied with electricity.

The say any action contrary to their application amounts to a breach of contract and both ERA and UMEME shall suffer liability adding that ERA should conduct wide and effective public consultations before any changes in the connection charges as the Auditor General audits the implementation of the ECP from its commencement in 2018 to date to check if there was value for money.

The CSOs also say people responsible must account for the $112m that was planned for the ECP.

They threaten that if “our demands are not met within 14 days from the date of this letter, we shall have no option but to file a case in court to stop the above violations”.

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