By ZURAH NAKABUGO
The Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa, has vowed to fight electricity vandals and blamed the unregulated scrap industry for the vandalism of electrical installation equipment.
“It has come to our realization that vandalizing electricity assets has a relationship with the unregulated scrap business in the country. I call upon the Uganda Manufacturers Association to ensure the regulation of the scrap industry,” she said.
Nankabirwa said, in the last two years alone, the government has lost over Shs 260bn due to power vandalism and this led to national power blackout lasting for over three hours. “Load-shedding continued for a week in some parts of Kampala as the affected towers were being replaced.”
She adds, “Imagine you are in the theatre, operating a patient and power goes off. This is why some people end up dying. The collapse of five towers in Mbalala, Mukono district on the 132kV Owen falls – Lugogo transmission line, on September 20, 2018, which led to a national power blackout lasting over three hours, was due to power vandalism.”
Nankabirwa said, 29 towers were badly vandalized in Tororo district on the 132kV Tororo – Lira transmission line which was under construction leading to 13 towers collapsing on the ground.
“This has delayed delivery of the project and subsequently increased project costs noting that one tower for 132kV transmission line costs about $ 10,000 (Shs 36m),” she said.
Nankabirwa said this during a press conference, attended by energy Ministry officials and members of civil society on November 25, at Golden Tulip Hotel in Kampala.
She said, when they vandalise towers, the tower can fall on the building and cause death.
“Recently a metallic tower fell on the wooden line. The 400kV Karuma – Kawanda transmission line and Karuma – Lira transmission line have been vandalized heavily,” Nankabirwa said
She adds, “On the Karuma – Kawanda line alone, 9.5km of aluminum conductor wires were cut and stolen together with other tower parts and accessories estimated to be 100 metric tons equivalent to about 7 towers.”
“The big metallic power parts which are fixed in concrete to support the towers above the ground are also vandalized which shows the determination of vandalism. It’s terrible to cut down the steel tower and then you dig out the steel used in the foundation of that tower to yield huge money,” Nankabirwa said.
She said, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd, (UETCL) spends over Shs 600m annually to repair vandalized towers on the existing lines across the country. She said due to current rate of vandalism and the growing size of the transmission lines, these costs are expected to increase, unless this vice is contained.
“Electricity distribution lines are also not spared. Over Shs 26bn has been lost due to vandalism of distribution electricity networks across the country with hot spots being Kyotera, Masaka, Greater Mbarara and Hoima region,” Nankabirwa said
She warned against rampant cases of vandalism of power transmission and distribution infrastructure, citing that the vandals are deliberately sabotaging the electricity access that government embarked on to ensure electricity for all by 2030.
“ There have been cases where segments of the network are destroyed out of malice including syphoning of transformer oils causing transformers to burn, removing copper wires within transformers and at times theft of the entire transformer,” she said.
Nankabirwa said, the public needs to be aware that interference with electricity supply network causes power blackouts, threatens the security of our homes, increases the cost of doing business and electricity tariffs and disrupts vital health and education services.
“Other effects of power vandalism include, increased project development costs, extended project delivery timelines and it affects the economy and national development,” she said.
She said people vandalizing electricity equipment are interested in items like aluminum wires, copper wires, transformers, transformer oils, poles, underground cables, pylons and wire conductors. She said, most of these items find the biggest market in Kampala and Wakiso district.
Nankabirwa said, in some cases, electricity distribution lines have been cut down without vandalizing anything and such acts can only be categorized as economic sabotage.
“Government has set up an inter-agency operation to ensure the security and safety of the electricity infrastructure across the country, by partnering with all security agencies to hunt and arrest the culprits and prosecute them in court,” she said.
She said, government is also in the process of amending the Electricity Act which will among others criminalize vandalism and provide for punitive measures for the vandals.