Just when I thought that Uganda is getting on the right track with its efforts to manage and improve governance at all levels, I came across a strange situation that revealed how much more and how far we need to go to get this country somewhere.
A few years ago, Umeme Ltd introduced prepaid electricity meters to Uganda. All is well, you pay and you run whatever you want, no monthly bills, no disconnection notices. Fair enough, not a bad idea in a country where everyone dodges payment on time, you may think it’s a national sport trained to perfection.
But I didn’t want Yaka because the issue of Tax Invoices for my office was not very clear.Until it was put to me that they will install Yaka meter and take mine – which I paid for when we applied for the connection at our new office three years ago.
So, my meter was taken without compensation, and a new gadget installed on the pole. We were advised to use PayWay to load tokens and since PayWay gave some sort of flimsy Tax Invoice, this was allowed to pass.
Take note that huge areas of Kampala are now under Yaka, I do not have the stats but it’s pretty much everyone I know and that may mean all the suburbs and city except industrial area.
Now, coming to work on a Monday morning, 8th February 2016, and the power is down, Yaka meter showing zero. Fine. PayWay is at Acacia Mall but it’s 7am and if I turn up at the mall gates they will certainly think I’m a terrorist – a muzungu woman driving a Figaro with a Star Leo personalised numberplate – I do arise askaris’ suspicion all the time. Probably rightfully so because I do instill terror, especially in the former employees who can’t stop backbiting till today, but that’s a story for another day.
So I quickly dismiss the thought of going to the mall and grab my mac to do an online transaction, saying a quick prayer for Stanbic Bank IT in the process because that seems to be really in a devastatingly sick state – another story for another day.
I go to VAS, pay 200,000 to Umeme, get a token, load my account and call 0800-185-185 to ask for my Tax Invoice. Talk to a guy who says he will ‘escalate it’ which – of course – makes me wonder because issuing a tax invoice should be the most natural process for a tax registered company, like breathing air, but I say my thank yous and push on.
Next day at work, no tax invoice coming to my mailbox, I ask Umeme on Twitter and they have no answer. I give them 45 minutes to sort themselves out and indeed – something happens!
Perspective: that money buys about 9kg of sugar or 20 Coca-Colas, or two lunches at Raves or four at Mama Angela’s and – I spend some 400,000 on electricity monthly so 60,000 in stolen VAT is not insignificant. From me alone.
Now, surely the same module that generated the “PAYMENT SLIP” above can be changed to read “TAX INVOICE” and a line inserted to fill in my TIN number, as required by URA. Or – my TIN Number can be added next to the company name. No big deal. But hey – it’s easier to do nothing and have the playground to themselves instead of doing the right thing as required by the law.
So, the battle starts and Umeme asserts that they have given me the tax invoice, which is a lie, and I report them to URA for tax non-compliance. Of course – URA still owes me answers on MTN isue – exactly the same behaviour – nit giving tax invoices and giving many excuses instead. Not to mention my reward for whistleblowing on MTN but that’s on URA’s conscience and I’ll pick it up with them any time.
Back to Umeme. First, this company is the most pathetic performer, using exclusively customers’ funds to expand and build the end of the distribution network. I was asked to install a transformer at home at a cost of 30 million of which Umeme would take 5 million “for testing” of a brand new transformer from Korica – another daylight theft. Needless to say we bought solar equipment at home and life is beautiful without Umeme, sunshine all the way!
Another theft worth mentioning is that I paid 24 million to have their poles removed from my land, which they were occupying illegally because there is no contract they have with anyone in Garuga to pass their electricity line where it passes. Reason to remove the poles – they were rotting and falling all over the place, in that last year they replaced two broken poles and we simply could not live under the high voltage wires at constant risk of falling, with our animals and people employed here.
Speaking of broken wires – we would report and replacement would happen a week or more later. So efficiency wasn’t the name of the game either. Hence the mini-uproars that occasionally happen on Twitter or Facebook – a supplier that holds the whole country at ransom, posting profits based on customers’ payments for poles, wires, transformers and metres that are booked as Umeme capital investment, milking the little economy that’s connected to the grid and devastating the rest of the country that remains in darkness up to 80% of the territory, underdeveloped and short of services, information, opportunities – all due to the lack of electricity.
So, to conclude, I have unearthed another cheating giant that blatantly steals people’s taxes and refuses to abide by the laws of our country.
I have reported them to URA and I want to see, this time, that URA will act on my report and provide feedback.
I wold like to encourage everyone who reads this to revisit their payments to Umeme and see if they are getting the correct TAX Invoice documents. If you are not – you can join me in signing a petition here:
That’s all for now. Will keep you updated.