By Selestino Babungi
In the last few days, there has been some substantial easing, by government, of some of the lockdown measures that have thus far, protected Uganda from the raging Covid-19. As most Ugandans begin to return to work, they will be happy to find everything running and the lights on, just like at their respective homes. Behind all this has been the 1,625 men and women at Umeme; Uganda’s largest power distributor, working together in partnership with the generation and transmission partners, to keep Uganda, especially the healthcare and manufacturing facilities switched on and running.
Covid-19, the deadly disease caused by the Coronavirus is now a local and a global reality. I would like to applaud all our frontline healthcare workers and other individuals and institutions who are working day and night under the strategic guidance of our president, to keep this pandemic at bay in Uganda.
As guided by the President, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, while the healthcare workers fight the disease, care must be taken to keep the economy running, without compromising public health.
Umeme, accounts for over 97% of all electricity supply in the country and we therefore understand and appreciate that we must stay at work to keep the country switched on and running. I appreciate the efforts of our 1,625 staff and contractors who have remained committed to keeping the lights on. We also appreciate the support received from the security Joint Task Force, which has continued to support us during these tough times.
But Uganda can only keep the economy running, if we are all healthy and alive, which is why I urge all of us to join hands to fight the Coronavirus by adhering to all government directives and guidelines especially staying home and practicing the various safety measures that government has so articulately communicated.
Adjusting our processes to keep Uganda switched on
At Umeme- the safety of our customers, our staff, and the public has always been a priority. In light of the directives issued by the government, Umeme has had to inevitably make adjustments in our standard operating procedures to protect our staff and subsequently the public, but also ensure we reliably keep on the lights.
First of all, to reduce the level of human interaction, we have had to scale down on the number of staff coming to work physically. This has seen us reduce the number of staff per shift. To fit within the 12-hour night curfew, we have also had to create longer shifts of 12 hours in our contact centre and work management centre. We have further relocated staff required to be at work to service centers nearest to their places of residence.
The staff rationalisations however do not affect the technical teams. We have maintained the usual technical teams who attend to faults in Kampala, Entebbe & Mukono areas. Our entire upcountry faults teams are also fully operational. The specialised teams that attend to big breakdowns and vital installations such as factories, healthcare facilities, security installations, and other vital facilities are on standby.
The decongestion on our roads has also allowed us to respond to emergencies and technical faults faster and timelier. This is why for example even with the reduced workforce, our service levels remain high.
Umeme keeping health and manufacturing facilities running
Most referral health facilities, except Mulago National Referral Hospital, do not have dedicated power lines. They share these power lines with other users in the community in which these facilities are located. To ensure maximum efficiency during this delicate period, Umeme carried out preventive inspections and maintenance on these lines and the supporting substations to enhance their performance. We have also made sure that any emerging faults on these lines are prioritised ahead of other faults for faster restoration of supply.
Also the pre-paid meters to health facilities were replenished with credit to ensure continuity of supply without disconnection.
The continued investment in the distribution grid has significantly contributed to its stability and reliability. For this year, the plan is to invest a further US$ 80 million in substations, line works, and expansion of distribution zones. We also aim to convert the remaining 150,000 postpaid customers to pre-paid metering.
Protecting Umeme Staff and their families
For the safety of our staff, Umeme complies with the Ministry of Health Guidelines on CoVID-19 and has provided the required personal protective equipment like working goggles, hand sanitizers, vehicle sanitizers, and gloves, etc. Our field technical teams are under strict instructions to adhere to Ministry of Health guidelines while attending to network operations and technical customer service requests.
We urge the public to boost the efficacy of these initiatives by equally practicing the ministry of health guidelines, especially maintaining the recommended 4 meters social distance while dealing with our staff.
The investments in technology have enabled us to continue serving our customers through the use of digital channels at our contact centre, payments through digital channels, remote network management through the use of SCADA and remote working of our staff. Our operations would have been significantly derailed during the lockdown period if we had not embraced technology over the years.
Let us stay safe, stay home, and save lives.
Selestino Babungi, is the Managing Director, Umeme Ltd.