Ninety days to the end of each calendar year, the power utilities submit their annual tariff review applications to the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).
The regulator thereafter organises a public hearing during which the public will share its comments or objections.
During the hearing, consumers make either oral or written submissions or both about the licensees’ requests.
Usually, the companies will voice their expectations about improvements in the power supply.
Additionally, the public will try to influence the Tariff (Price of Electricity) by voicing reservations about increments or arguing that utilities should not be paid more than what their services are worth.
On the other hand, the utilities want to use the hearings to detail why their operation and maintenance costs as well as the tariffs should be increased.
ERA will take note of all the arguments and accordingly balance the interests of the consumers for reasonable prices, the licensees for cost-reflective tariffs, and the government’s goal to promote access to affordable and reliable electricity supply while protecting the public from exploitation.
However, consumers participating should not stop at public hearings; they should interest themselves in the performance of the utilities.
In their applications, power utilities usually seek approval for projects they say will result in reliable and quality power supply.
Reliability refers to stable electricity supply, access without fluctuations in voltage, always available and capable of supporting appliance usage subject to the voltage capacity of the grid line, according to the Energy Electricity Access in Sub-Saharan Africa Uptake, Reliability, and Complementary Factors for Economic Impact report.
The report adds that power utilities capture reliability through two indexes: one, the frequency of outages (blackouts), and two, the duration of the outages.
By comparing the service rendered with the quality of service standards, the public can bring to the authority’s attention failure by utilities to meet the quality of service standards, how frequently the lapses occur and what should be done about them.
In case of dissatisfaction, they can file their complaints with the utilities and should they feel the utilities have not addressed their complaints satisfactorily, they could appeal to an independent ombudsman.
The consumers have rights to access to quality power supply, timely billing, and have obligations like promptly paying their bills, using electricity in a manner that will not cause accidents or death and to fight power theft.
Public participation in Uganda’s Electricity Supply Industry (ESI) review and licencing processes can be traced to 2000 when the regulator started operating.
Before then, decisions about investments in the sector were decided by the government through the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB).
While during the UEB days the government took care of the public’s interests in the electricity sector, with the liberalisation of the industry and in the spirit of transparency and accountability, the public should now interest itself in tariff setting processes and if possible, interest themselves in the approved investments, and the licensees’ performance with regards to these investments.