Earlier in 2020, I listened to the Kenya Power CEO, Bernard Ngugi, speak about some of the things they are doing to turn around the fortunes of the ailing giant. Everything was perfect - on paper. However, he failed to mention the two elephants in the room: corruption and inefficiencies. While Kenya Power has been performing poorly and even blaming solar for its poor performance, it is obvious that other matters need to be addressed.
Several years ago, I spent about three months doing an attachment with Kenya Power. The one lesson that I carried home is that the enemy is not solar; it is within.
Corruption at Kenya Power
It would not be too farfetched to assume that the C in KPLC stands for corruption because the level of corruption that exists in the company is of cosmic proportions, out of this world. (Kenya Power and Lighting Company – KPLC – is better known by its brand name ‘Kenya Power’).
Kenya Power is a cash cow for different stakeholders – government, employees, contractors, and anybody else who can figure out how to get into the party.
Senior staff at the head office once told me that the car park at Stima Plaza is like a showroom, where the latest models of vehicles are found. This is because many people who work there are super-rich and the only logical explanation for their wealth is that they get more than their salaries.
During the short time I spent there, a typical daily schedule would be to pick up supplies in the morning and the next task was to distribute them to contractors who were buying them from the staff. The staff would make money by selling various types of supplies at a throwaway price to third parties. Although the Kenya Power trucks would be inspected to ensure that all the resources leaving the stores could be accounted for, that was just a formality and the guards would turn a blind eye as the stores were looted.
The company also deliberately buys low-quality equipment (at a premium price) so that it does not last long, and they can keep getting replaced regularly. The money is in tendering and supplies, where tenders are hugely inflated and kickbacks flow.
If an employee raises concerns about such issues, they are likely to be transferred to a very remote location.
Challenging corruption is career suicide.
Kenya Power is plagued by inefficiencies
Typical of most monopolies, the absence of competition leads to lower interest in increasing efficiency because there is little external threat. It is not unexpected because, in business, profits are the biggest motivation and one keeps innovating and improving services to stay ahead of the game. However, if there is no competition, one simply needs to play about the pricing to make more money. No need to improve the service.
This has been the position of Kenya Power when it comes to energy distribution. Dealing with the monopoly is like appeasing a distant god who has to be awakened from slumber. One has to pay first, then keep hoping that Kenya Power will respond.
Getting connected to Kenya Power is always a nightmare, even when you have the money. You have to fill some forms, make payments and keep visiting their offices. When they finally remember you, they will send a contractor who you will have to bribe to get you connected. Chances are high that they will drop the cables at your house, then you will have to wait for the metering team to show up one week later - or a few months later.
If the transformer serving your location is faulty, you may have to go for few months without power. The response is faster in urban areas but I once waited for three days for a faulty transformer to be replaced and the pain of throwing away foodstuffs stored in the refrigerator was too much. Kenya Power moves at its speed.
But even in their operations, some things just do not make sense. Why should eight men in a giant Isuzu truck show up to fix a faulty connection at your place, then spend half the day doing the work? The work could even be erecting a pole but could take half a day. The actual cost to the company would be more than KES 30,000, yet the client in question pays a bill of KES 1500 a month. This is bad business.
While all this is happening, Kenya Power also faces a shortage of staff especially in some branches away from the capital. This makes it hard to respond to power failures on time. It is not uncommon for a fault to go for a week unresolved.
Kenya needs an efficient Kenya Power
While all this is happening, the end consumers end up suffering.
Several online activists have called for the disbandment of the company and many wish that the company should just die. Unfortunately, this may not be in the best interest of Kenyans. A strong Kenya Power is the best bet Kenya has to a reliable and affordable power supply.
If power production and distribution are overly fragmented, the cost of energy will go up and it will be harder to get many rural areas connected.
Perhaps, what Kenyans need to do is to demand more accountability from the government which has a major controlling stake in Kenya's Power. Unfortunately, corruption and inefficiencies are the trademarks of almost all government functions. In that case, the hope for a better Kenya Power lies in the ballot.
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