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MARKET FOR IMPUDENTS

Conmen riding on Kenya Power

In Summary

• It had to be KPLC again, whose name is used to try a con

• The timing was right—that time when there are too many days at the end of the money

Conmen ride on Kenya power
Conmen ride on Kenya power
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

Times are hard, even conmen are running out of tricks and preys. But the tricksters know which public corporation to ride on to cook a con, even if the plot is a gamble.

The high cost of living – famine, hunger, drought, infectious corruption, ascendant impunity, and massive personalisation of public resources – makes the Jubilee era a market for impudents.

It had to be Kenya Power and Lighting Company again, whose name is used to try a con. The timing was right—that time when there are too many days at the end of the money. It's a time when the month takes the climbing lane, after a glide to 14th day of the moon.

This mid-month Friday morning, one 'Engineer Gabriel Makokha' calls from Kisumu, with what sounds like an urgent message. He sounds professional, without a heavy Luhya accent. He assures of a deal if I could sign a contract to host an upgraded transformer in my rural home in Kanjira, Karachuonyo. He tells me roadside transformers are prone to vandalism. The new generation ones, he says, are popular with vandals looking for copper wires and transformer oil.

when the deal is good, think. There was this little matter of [email protected], then the speed of the project, and the fray of calls from Kenya Power ‘engineers’. KP is known for bureaucracy, especially in matters of paying out money. This was rapid.

The call, Engineer Makokha tells me, follows a survey Kenya Power's Wayleave Department did two years ago in my sublocation. The K-Apple, barbed wire, and chainlink fence back home, he says, may not be burglar proof, but is good enough security for the transformer.

"When can we meet to sign up, if you agree to the terms?" asks Makokha. I wasn't anywhere near Kisumu, and was not in a position to travel to Kisumu to sign the contract.

"My colleague 'Engineer Didacus Okelo' will call shortly to give you more details, and then we can expedite the process." Within 10 minutes, Engineer Okelo calls.

"Wuod Karachuonyo, how are you? You talked to my colleague a few minutes ago," Engineer Okelo says, like he knows me. "This is a deal you should not let go - and it's urgent. We want to start on the project this weekend, if you agree to our terms."

"What are the terms?" I ask. "Good enough to clear tuition for two students in a private university, and enough change to pay for two children in a public secondary school. And still more change for a holiday at the Coast."

"Really, sounds great," I tell him. "You don't have to come to Kisumu. This is the digital age. Great if you can send your email address, then we would be good to go," Okelo tells me, like a vulture that's got a prey.

Within one hour, the email arrives, with the tempting figure written in bold. "Okech Kendo shall be paid by Kenya Power a compensation of KSh2,960,000.00 for host and wayleaves on the site above." And what slice of the compound does Kenya Power want to lease for this modest compensation in the village - a 3x3sqm -  enough to host a transformer. The renewable lease runs for 20 years, the letter, with a loud Kenya Power logo, says.

The official letter has as other project partners in the logo: Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, Rural Electrification Authority, Renewable Energy, and World Bank Group to make the contract look genuine.  Officialese continues:  "Our Ref: KP/WLB-370/TX/019/302."

Engineer George Onkundi calls 30 minutes later, asking whether I have received the email. "We would appreciate, Sir, if you could sign and send it back before 2pm today, to help us plan a site visit tomorrow."

One hour later Okelo calls again. Twenty minutes later Makokha calls again. Soon after, Okelo calls again. "Wuod Ochuonyo, don't miss this chance. There are two other people interested in hosting the transformer. Eng Okelo called 11 times that Friday, six times on Saturday, and a last-mile call on Monday. Makokha called seven times in two days. Onkundi called four times. This con club has the face of Kenya.

'Engineer Fred Obong'o' comes in as chief officer, Last Mile Project manager. One Charles Muriuki arrives, as company legal officer. The contract letter asks for ID/passport number,  title deed details, account details - name of bank, bank address, account number, account names, swift code, bank officer, terms of payment - cash, cheque, and RTGS/EFT, all at ago.

Not that there was a windfall in the bank account for the engineers to hack. But when the deal is good, think. There was this little matter of [email protected], then the speed of the project, and the fray of calls from Kenya Power 'engineers'. KP is known for bureaucracy, especially in matters of paying out money. This was rapid.

Three contacts at the real KP, including one from security, told me, "Ignore, those are conmen."