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September 25, 2018

What Is Wrong With KPLC And MPs?

KPLC workers replacing vandalized transformers in Kitale.photo/NICHOLAS WAMALWA.
KPLC workers replacing vandalized transformers in Kitale.photo/NICHOLAS WAMALWA.

A few weeks ago, I had asked the good people at the Star if I could please do my column fortnightly, partly because i have been incredibly busy with other work, and partly because it can be a bit of a drag to find something to write about every Friday. How much is there really to say? But duh: KPLC! An ever rich field for column treasure hunting.

In fact, I suddenly began toying with the idea of a weekly KPLC monitor. I am beginning to develop a minor obsession with their Facebook feed. It is a curious mixture of the functional, that is, inviting feedback and comments on outages, and rather energy-utility atypical religious-inspirational posts.

I have discussed this many times with friends, and we have only found one explanation: a troll must be running their Facebook feed. Because when the lights go out for the umpteenth time and work and life plans collapse around you, pouf, nothing will set you off faster than ‘Don't Worry If Others Don’t Understand You.

Worry Only If You Cant Understand Yourself, Live In Your Passion And Love Your Life. Happiness Is Not Something You Postpone For The Future; It Is Something You Design For The Present. Have A Blessed Day.’ Yeah yeah yeah. Keep the lights on, guys.

And then they had a really good run recently with a series of explanations for power cuts like weather (‘numerous severe power outages are caused by natural weather phenomena such as heavy rains and strong winds.’). Also stuff (‘Dust can cause problems with electrical systems and lead to short circuits and power failures’).

This week, KPLC treated us to a country-wide power cut (hoorah Vision 2030!), and started behaving like MPs. No tariff increases, said the deputy president. Try us, said KPLC, we will still shake you down – and then lifted the standard rate for electricity connections. I am as capitalist as they come, and I think it is important to run the company as economically as possible.

Profitably, even, because profitability is great for growth. But KPLC is already comfortably profitable and fobs off all price fluctuations (currency, fuel) to the end user. If KPLC connect more users, they will make more sales, which is what they should really focus on.

Electricity is more fundamental to the economy than, say, cheese cake. Making electricity more widely available and at lower rates, is a huge boost to the economy not just to the manufacturing sector.

And nobody asks KPLC to subsidise services – but they can certainly cross-subsidise them. It will raise productivity in the jua kali sector and making sure that people with lower incomes have access to utilities is not just a social justice issue, but a productivity issue.

Nobody is asking KPLC to give away connections for free. But to calculate the price of new connections per actual cost of putting up that connection in a one off transaction is pushing it, especially when the company is a monopolist and has inherently little pressure to improve the efficiency of its operations.

And pressure on KPLC to improve their operations needs to be accompanied by a serious, serious push into increasing energy generation capacity. I do not understand why a country so rich in other opportunities – solar, wind, biomass – still scrambles like this. Well, fine, I do understand: too many vested interests in the fuel transport and marketing industry, but still.

Speaking of MPs and the public good, let’s not, because I have run out of words. I have been held up at gun point in Uganda once, and I now feel that the robbers back then had slightly more decency and compassion because they left us the car with the keys in the ignition after taking our stuff.

The grand drama in parliament was toe curling to watch - there is no single other subject that MPs will get behind this quickly, this unitedly, with the same level of unashamed thuggery.

With limited public finances, it makes perfect sense to have reduced their salary levels from what was paid to the previous parliament. Open the papers on any given day and you find examples of citizens in dire need, with the state failing them.

I have also been a little intrigued by the reaction – or otherwise – of the corporate sector. If this is Kenya Inc as the new administration wants to portray it, the corporate sector has certainly been very quiet.

To watch Francis Atwoli go all out in favour of MPs’ pay is a curious thing and I wonder if the (just public?) silence had anything to do with the business community not wanting to tick off the trade union’s overlord.

It is a slightly odd disengagement. It will affect all of us if more money is being misspent on MPs, businesses just as much as individuals—but corporate seem very cautious about not being caught on that ‘activist’ side. Thoughts on a postcard!

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