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January 17, 2019

Kenya Power's season of darkness


Kenya Power’s attempts to wriggle out of scandalous electricity billing would have been comical if it wasn’t callous, fraudulent, and ill-timed. Consider this: A consumer complains of an inflated December bill of Sh13,493, up from a monthly average of Sh2,500, with current reading recorded as 7,621kWh, up from 6,987. Estimated consumption is given as 634kWh.

After the complaint, the same customer got a bill of Sh105,089, dated 12-01-2018. The reading is given as 1,807kWh, with a similar previous reading of 1,807. Consumption is recorded as 0kWh, levies:0, taxes:24. Zero consumption is billed Sh91,596, more than a previous estimated, fraudulent reading of 634kWh. From the monthly average, it would take this consumer three and a half years, or 42 months, to consume power worth Sh105,089.

Two readers, one , different results. One read 7,721kWh, another saw 1,807kWh. The consumer saw 1,873kWh two days after the second reading. The joke is callous, coming in the middle of a stunted economy. January is psychologically the longest month. It follows high household expenditures during the December festivities. January is also when parents pay heavily for tuition and other items for children going to Form One. January is a special moment of financial strain.

The fraudulent billing furore is not a backlash of bad timing. There is much more to the assault on the leaking pockets of customers. Kenya Power is a monopoly that abuses its dominance to fatten its bottomline.

How does an average monthly household power bill move from Sh2,300 to Sh18,000, or from Sh1,800 to Sh16,500? Or from Sh13,000 to Sh105,000 on zero consumption? Some consumers see political debt collection in this. Denial of a political hue in the fumble does not convince cynics. Incompetence does not explain the dearth of numeracy at Kenya Power. It’s a scam.

Two months after a disputed presidential election is not the time to fumble for excuses for bad decisions. The attempt to cite the “sensitivity” of presidential elections to rationalise a bad decision muddles the issue. Are consumers paying the cost of the election?

Kenya Power is experimenting with conflicting excuses to explain the irregular billing. It began with: “There were delayed fuel cost recoveries for the year ended June 2017 (partial cost recovery) in support of the government’s goal of stabilising electricity costs.” A fuel levy cost of Sh8.2 billion is pending from an initial Sh10.1 billion.

Translation? Consumers pay a monthly fuel cost charge. This cost soared because of drought, which affected hydroelectric power generation. The recourse to thermal generation added a huge cost, which KPLC did not want to pass on to consumers before the presidential elections. Huge bills would have offended consumers. So KPLC decides January is the right time to antagonise customers.

But this excuse was not communicated to staff. The communication would have harmonised the excuses for the fraud. Consider this: A consumer from Central got a Sh16,518 bill, up from a monthly average Sh1,800. A correct reading of his showed the actual bill is Sh3,000. The regional manager’s excuse is: “Some of the high bills may be due to some overestimates, which will be corrected when actual readings are used to bill.”

Energy CS Charles Keter confirms there were mistakes in meter readings, which resulted from “system upgrade”. “Kenya Power calls on aggrieved customers to visit their offices for assessment of their accounts for swift resolution,” he says.

Never mind the congestion when millions of customers visit its offices to complain. Keter confirms Kenya Power’s readings are careless guesswork and estimates that have no bearing on monthly trends.

For Kenya Power, it is not merely about political billing. This is a corporation that charges consumers for emergency calls when reporting power outages that come every time the weather changes. With only two or a few ‘emergency’ lines, Kenya Power is operating in the dark recesses of prosecutable economic injustice.

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