A team of Police officers have pitched camp at the Umeme Limited head offices on Rwenzori House in Kampala to investigate a Shs 10 billion free energy-saving bulbs project.
The police are trying to find out how the government- supported project has been bungled, with most of the bulbs now being sold in shops and supermarkets around Kampala.
Both the police and Umeme have confirmed to The Observer that an investigation is ongoing, although they say it is still at a preliminary stage.
Senior Commissioner of Police Joseph Obwana, who is also the head of investigations at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), confirmed that the police are investigating the bulb saga at Umeme.
The senior legal manager for Umeme, Allan Rwakakooko, also told us: “It is true Police is investigating the allegations that some bulbs were not delivered.”
For Umeme, the prospect of these energy-saving bulbs being stolen does not hurt them financially. Instead, the theft of the free energy-saving bulbs hurts the consumers, who paid money to Umeme, through power bills, to have the bulbs bought and distributed.
In its 2015 annual report, Umeme wrote: “ERA [Electricity Regulatory Authority] approved Shs 10.778 billion in the year ended 31 December 2014 to be collected from customers through the retail tariffs to finance the purchase and distribution of LED bulbs to customers.”
Still, the saga has wide ramifications beyond being treated as a simple case of theft: it means Uganda continues to lose a lot of energy that could have been saved had the distribution of the energy-saving bulbs been well-executed.
The bulb saga ultimately stains Umeme Limited’s image, with questions bound to arise over whether there was negligence and incompetence in ensuring that the bulbs reached their target households.
According to police, it is Umeme Limited that reported the theft of the bulbs. We could not verify if Umeme Limited had taken any measures to stop the theft long before they cried foul at police.
Rwakakooko said, “During the process of distribution, we received some complaints that some bulbs were not delivered and had ended up being on sale in the market. After the complaint, Umeme undertook an audit, and found out some bulbs were not distributed.”
He added that they “raised the complaint against the distributors, and police started investigations and some people have already recorded statements and the investigations are still ongoing.”
Umeme officials, however, declined to divulge to us the name of the company they sub-contracted, saying they did not want to compromise the police investigation.
The police spokesman in charge of CID, Vincent Ssekatte, told us bulbs were procured some time last year after the ministry of energy appeared before the committee of natural resources in Parliament.
“The committee raised the issue of load shedding, saying some bulbs were consuming a lot of energy. They directed Umeme to buy bulbs that were consuming less energy.”
Ssekatte said the committee directed Umeme to buy more than 700,000 bulbs. Each bulb, it was estimated, was to cost $4.2. Umeme, we have been told, contracted a South African company called Phillips, which won the tender.
Phillips also contracted Kiboko Enterprises. Kiboko Enterprises then also contracted DAKS Couriers as the main distributors. Shortly, the bulbs were seen at Nakasero market, according to Ssekatte.
“Umeme staff saw the bulbs in the market and alerted police. The police also deployed its operatives to buy some of the bulbs. On confirming that these were the free energy-saving bulbs, we launched an operation and recovered about 200,000 bulbs from the market and the suspects were apprehended. Some of the suspects confessed they bought the bulbs from DAKS Couriers.
When The Observer contacted the owner of DAKS Couriers, David Kasingwire, he said he was in a meeting and couldn’t discuss the issues. He asked us, however, to call him beyond press time.
In July 2015, Energy minister Irene Muloni flagged off the project through which government planned to distribute over a million bulbs for free to Ugandans (three per household) in exchange for their ordinary bulbs.
Umeme, in its annual report for 2016, said it had “distributed 400,000 energy-efficient and long-lasting LED bulbs to household in Kampala and Wakiso, to encourage energy efficiency through utilization of energy friendly technologies.”
Those figures are now a subject of police investigation and verification.