Angry Customers Pile Complaints On Umeme
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) In July last year, Umeme launched a mobile money platform - Umeme touch pay - with much fanfare and pomp.
Announcing the partnership with Uganda's biggest telecom company, MTN Uganda, Umeme's statement said customers would be saved travelling long distances and queuing for long periods when paying the bills.
"You can now pay using your mobile phone even while at your office desk or while in the comfort of your home," read the statement in part.
"Customers who keep a float or balance on their mobile money account will be saved from electricity disconnection during emergency in case of delayed bill payment."
One year down the road, some customers say this was just a publicity stunt. Ssozi, a resident of Nansana, is one of the enraged customers. He says whenever he pays his bills through mobile money; his account is never upgraded until he goes to the Umeme offices, to complain.
"I paid on October 1, but they came on October 18 to put me off saying I had not cleared my bills," said Ssozi.
"First of all they [Umeme] send me messages, which are old. Even when I pay, they take time to realise I have paid."
The whole issue of mobile money is losing sense, adds a visibly angry Ssozi. Umeme says systems were put in place to try and ease things. Yet Ssozi is not alone in feeling this way. Complaints against Umeme range from inflated bills, to power cut-offs even when a customer has paid, intimidation of customers to accept Umeme's position, to mere arrogance of their staff.
Eunice Namara, another customer, told us she was particularly enraged by their delay to bring bills.
"When the month ends, I physically go to their offices and demand for my bill," Namara told The Observer.
"If they have the mobile money platform, why do they let me go to their office first to pick the bill?"
And just last month, city lawyer David Mpanga wrote on his blog that he had been threatened with disconnection and prosecution if he did not allow Umeme to install a pre-paid metre at his home.
"The lawyer in me picked up on the mandatory language of this letter. I wondered where Umeme, a private company, derived the power to direct me to switch from the post-paid to the prepaid arrangement and where it got the power to direct me to stay at my home all day on a working day," wrote Mpanga.
Henry Rugambwa Umeme's Corporate Affairs manager, said Umeme could not claim to be 100 per cent perfect. But on mobile money payments, he said: "when you pay, you receive a message notification, which acts as your receipt. If those people come to switch you off, you show them the receipt."
However, most of their officials come when people have gone to work - thus you could easily be switched off.
"But for some customers, we would handle case by case if they came to us."
And for all the complaints, Umeme has also recorded some success over the years. It is the first company from Uganda to list on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, widening its footprint in the region.
The company has also been credited for boosting Uganda's tax revenues through the amount of taxes it pays.
However, complaints still come in different forms, including charges of discrimination. Some customers feel there is discrimination in the way Umeme chooses to disconnect power.
Umeme is accused of quickly switching off people that live in low-end areas like Kawempe compared to the posh environments of Muyenga.
"When it's Muyenga, they will not put off power, but when it's Kavule, they will put you off - that's discrimination in terms of where and what kind of people live in that place."
However, Rugambwa says people who live in the so-called affluent places clear their power bills on time, the reason they don't face constant power cuts.
"Places that face a lot of power cuts are Kiira and Namugongo, but there is a big problem of power thefts there. You find there are 300 genuine customers yet another two hundred have come on board by stealing," he said.
Last February alone, an Electricity Regulatory Authority report showed they had received 90 complaints from Umeme customers, but majority of them - 46 complaints - were on the company's quality of service. Sixteen were on billing while 11 were on metering.
Copyright The Observer. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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