MINISTER KITUTU SPITS FIRE, SHAKES UP ENERGY MINISTRY OVER ELECTRICITY OUTAGES, THEFT
By Samuel Kamugisha
Just a month since she took over as Minister for Energy and Mineral Development, Mary Goretti Kimono Kitutu is already demanding results and pushing for major changes that could affect power generation, transmission, distribution and consumption in the country.
President Yoweri Museveni picked Kitutu to replace Irene Muloni as Energy Minister after the latter served eight years at the helm of the sector.
Although Kitutu recognizes Muloni’s contribution to the ministry, she is demanding more from staff at the ministry, heads of line agencies and departments as well as contractors in the areas of generation, transmission and distribution.
“I commend Muloni for steering the energy ministry for eight years,” Kitutu told power supply contractors in Kampala on Friday.
On the invitation of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), Kitutu was chief guest at the inaugural workshop hosting companies involved in the construction of electrical distribution infrastructure.
She told contractors that she had “high expectations” of them – just like she had of all the ministry staff and experts. These expectations, continued Kitutu, represent those of a common Ugandan waiting for a safe and reliable power supply.
Observing that Uganda’s generation capacity had hit over 1.2GW – and was set to increase with the commissioning of the 600MW Karuma Project expected to happen by the close of 2020 – Kitutu said she found it difficult to explain the fact that Uganda had more power than it can consume yet hundreds of thousands continued to complain of outages.
“We have more energy than we can consume, yet they keep asking me why we have outages; they tell me ‘why don’t you give us the power,” a tough-talking Kitutu said.
“A lot needs to be done to done to deliver the power to the final consumer.”
Acknowledging that government was aware of poverty-stricken parts of the country, Kitutu noted that poverty was one of the key causes of power theft.
“There are some underlying causes of power theft. People want power but they cannot afford it; so, they connect illegally,” she said. “That is why some of them are connecting their huts to medium voltage lines.”
Kitutu noted that efforts such the free connection project undertaken by Rural Electrification Agency (REA) were meant to address the issue of affordability. She called on sector players to fast-track such interventions aimed at the acceleration of access to electricity.
POLITICISING POWER SECTOR
The Minister, who doubles as the Manafwa District Woman MP, also told off leaders to “reduce politics in the power sector.”
“Politicians must leave work to the technical people. We [politicians] should only be coming in to commission projects,” she said.
“But you find a politician jumping on the pole telling people s/he has given them electricity yet s/he doesn’t even know that a certain line’s voltage shouldn’t directly go people’s homes [without being stepped down].”
Kitutu further warned service providers and distribution companies against “brutal” enforcement of measures meant to reduce illegal connects and power theft.
“Some companies are confiscating people’s property and money during enforcement,” she said, before ordering: “That should stop. Beating people is not the NRM way of doing things. Enforcement should be done with a human face.”
Emphasizing that she doesn’t condone power theft, the minister also directed companies to ensure that their enforcement officers report cases to the police instead of confiscating property.
She tasked ERA to investigate the claims of brutal enforcement and bring contractors involved to book.
To deliver the excess power to the final consumer, the minister revealed she had ordered Permanent Secretary Robert Kasande to review the work of the ministry’s Planning Unit with the idea of linking generation to the components of transmission and distribution.
“This unit is already there but we need to ensure that the three components are talking to each other,” she said.
She added that she would ensure that the new changes in the unit are included in the law so that it is not challenged on legal grounds.
Kitutu acknowledged that power tariffs remained a huge problem that needed efforts of all sector players to solve.
Although Uganda continues to increase its power generation, prices have remained relatively high because a lot of electricity has not been distributed to the final consumers.
A unit of electricity (KWh) has been oscillating between Shs750 and Shs900 in recent years.
High power tariffs and challenges in distribution have kept the number of Ugandans with access to electricity slightly above average. Current figures put the number of Ugandans with access to clean energy at only 51 per cent.
The Minister tasked her ministry officials to “look for options of reducing the tariffs” because “we need to give Ugandans what they can afford.”
She was hopeful the tariffs would come down “as we get more consumers and industrial parks.”
Both Kitutu and ERA CEO Ziria Tibalwa Waako emphasized the issue of standards. They observed that supply sector contractors were performing fairly, and thus needed to improve.
Waako partly blamed inadequate workmanship for the outages, adding that ERA would continue to train and to remind contractors of their responsibilities as a way of bettering supply of power to Ugandans.
Kitutu warned contractors that they would be kicked out of the market if they do not step up their game, especially in the wake of East African Community (EAC) trade deals that had opened up bidding for energy works to players from other regional countries.
“If you don’t meet the standards, people will go to Kenya [to look for more competent contractors],” said the minister.
Earlier, Waako had cautioned: “Carry out your work in the best way. We won’t hesitate to revoke your permit for any form of misconduct.”
She further challenged supply sector contractors to be innovative as a way of promoting import substitution efforts.
“Some of these small equipment can be manufactured here. For example, can’t we begin manufacturing bulbs here in Uganda?” asked Kitutu.
The Minister further invited the private sector players to tap into the expertise of Ugandan scientists to bolster their competitiveness.
“We have very bright scientists at Makerere and Kyambogo universities. Those students do great innovations. It is up to you to pick them up,” she encouraged.
Meanwhile, as part of the ministry’s plan to help contractors, the Minister revealed a plan by government to capitalize Uganda Development Bank (UDB) “to help you get loans cheaply because we don’t want you to be subjected to commercial bank loans.”
A MOTHER’S DISCIPLINING MODEL
Kitutu stuck to the endearing title of “mother” which Waako had used to warmly addressed her. The Minister, after congratulating ERA on its recognition as Africa’s finest regulator, said she looked forward to working with the agency, contractors and all players in the energy sector.
She promised she would “discipline you like a mother” but was quick to add that she meant well for the sector and all players therein.