Now what about this constant #DownWithUmeme


(Posted 22nd August 2013)

You might of course be wondering, or as a Ugandan perhaps not, what my, and many others’ beef is with #DownWithUmeme.

This week their fat cats pranced about their corporate headquarters, strutting their stuff and popping the champagne corks celebrating record profits. This at a time when many ordinary Ugandans suffer regularly, some daily, from power interruptions and in the capital city of Kampala no less, not because there is a shortage of generated electricity but because the system keep breaking down with fault chasing fault. One of my FB friends who lives somewhere near Entebbe, has outages so often she habitually charges all her equipment’s batteries in the office to be sure to be able to do something when she gets home. And this in the year 2013.

But let’s go back a bit to their days when they were busy selling their shares.

With tariffs at a level that they can only be called exploitative, and still they want more of our shillings had the regulators not put their foot down, they spent a fortune to drum their share sale event into the public, and lo and behold, no sooner did they have the money in the bag did they retire some major shareholder loans, keeping only a fraction of what they raised to improve our national network, take down their rotten infrastructure and finally start a comprehensive upgrade. For that they may have to borrow again now, who knows, and for sure at more expensive terms than what the shareholder loans required for servicing, so ask what deal had been made there between managers and shareholders. One deal for sure was made, a promise of what many think will be unsustainable dividend payments for years to come, but then, one can always ask to raise tariffs again, yes?

I live off the main line from Kabalagala to Munyonyo, our national showcase conference and convention centre, and this line was completely refurbished and upgraded for the CHOGM Summit in 2007 – and yet, on a far too regular basis is our power down. ‘A small problem’ one hears often from the call centre, if at all those do have a clue. I mock them regularly on my Twitter TL, that in order to be employed there, key criteria would have to be ignorance, arrogance, incompetence, no hesitation to mislead us but also the ability, without fail, to read through the entire template of questions in front of them instead of just answering a darned question.

They always start asking the location, as if that could not be stored permanently in their records, popping up on the screen when the account number is read out to them. But no, that is impossible it seems, so they have to ask that detail time and again, in my case perhaps hundreds if not thousands of times over the years. ‘What landmark is near you’ I am regularly asked and on one occasion, tongue in cheek, I told the hapless person at the other end ‘There is an aircraft flying overhead’ to which she responded ‘Haya, the technician will see that’ – now that was NOT tongue in cheek but in full earnest. How she got to answer phones at the #DownWithUmeme call centre will forever be a mystery.

On many occasions in the past, now largely sorted out, power used to go off for a few minutes, come back on, go off again, come back and that cycle could go for an hour or two. Not once did the call centre have any clue, NOT ONCE, of why that was the case, if someone was playing with switches because as a young lad he did not get enough toys or whatever other reason. It just prevailed until one fine day it had stopped, still no reason explained, EVER.

And of course, how often are the phones not answered or not going through. And when one does get through, questions like ‘You mean your power is off’ are so not helpful, because why the heck would I otherwise call #DownWithUmeme – surely not to complement them the power is on – which is their darned job they are doing badly enough – but to report a fault???

I often rap them about their repairs with ‘string and celotape’ and while some take exception, well one or two anyway, most just hear it and move on, yet, when the lines are down for their so called maintenance, be sure that on subsequent days, when strings and celotape have fallen off the poles, power goes again. And before queries are raised, it happened again over the past two days when the day prior to that ‘maintenance’ was ongoing all day.

Dim lights, another speciality of theirs. When reported, instead of taking the line off to prevent damage to people’s equipment in their houses when they are out, no, the dim lights have to stay until, often many hours later, eventually someone puts whatever prompted it back in order.

When I see comments related to #DownWithUmeme on the Twitter TL or on Facebook, most of them bemoan long outages, protest overcharges on bills and here I get going even more.

Paid up, no outstanding, the new bill is delivered and has already the passage printed in: ‘Supply may be DISCONNECTED without further notice as bill payment is overdue’ … ahem, overdue, yes? Really? No outstandings shown and yet the past zero balance is overdue and the amount just billed apparently too? Get real!

If the provider of brown froth, aka Kampala Water, has done one famous thing, it is equipping their meter readers with a gadget which when fed with the meter details instantly prints a bill showing current outstandings, if any.

And when one makes payment at a bank, or by mobile money, you can be sure there is an instant SMS confirming receipt of the money – with #DownWithUmeme, they are still in the stone age of meter reading, manual recording, multiple visits to read the metre again and again and delivering the bills by hand through couriers, who, when it rains have in the past repeatedly thrown the bill over the gate, at times with the neighbours’ bill stuck to it. Or they don’t deliver at all, as has happened and be sure that the goons will be at the gate momentarily to cut off your supply for nonpayment, even if the entire neighbourhood has not seen bills for weeks.

And so in the corporate suites the brass celebrates profits, gained from the sweat of ordinary Ugandans who dread getting their yellow, green and white invoices at the end of the month for fear that they may have to sell their car to be able to pay them or raid the school fee account of their children. The consumers suffer and the fat cats celebrate profit margins, as this is the most normal thing to do.

How I, and many others, wish back the days of UEB. Wishful thinking, I know … Let me rush, the lights are already flickering again and before they go I better safe this rant and post it on my blog before I lose it … quite intentionally I would suggest by those with their fingers on the trigger at the #DownWithUmeme switch centre who surely suspect something of this sort come their way today.

Corporate Mordor at its best … and how befitting to be called the Dark Lords …

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