By Ouma Ojango
If the Government patronage that has shielded Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KP) from competition were to be dropped, the electricity retailer would suffer the same fate as Kodak, a one-time world leader in technology with products and services in commercial print, packaging, manufacturing and entertainment.
Left to its own devices, KP would quickly join the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KP&TC) in the deep end of the sea with no prospects of ever rising to the surface again, leave alone staying afloat.
These two are world’s best examples of how not to catch up with rapidly evolving technology and the consequences they suffered should serve as warning shots to any company, private or limited, that is keen on surviving changing times.
Kodak, for instance, failed to learn that its long held strategy, which was at some point a rainmaker, had for far too long turned a blind spot to new technology, becoming obsolete in the world’s rapidly changing new order. The company’s managers stuck with the outdated film cameras as the others in the industry shifted to digital.
KP&TC, on the other hand, failed to seize the opportunity at the advent of Internet disruption in telecommunication. Had the managers at the giant State corporation been alert enough, KP&TC would have crossed the rubicon with mobile telephony long before Safaricom set foot on Kenyan soil.
KP&TC was later split, with post services and telecommunication going their separate ways. Telecommunication has since suffered natural attrition. Posta, though still surviving, is suffocating under the stranglehold of a thriving digital age. It is a matter of time before the corporation is erased from the industry map if its managers will not move with speed to catch up with technology.
How Kenya Power is not borrowing a leaf from the experiences of these two fallen giants beats logic. The company has strived to improve transmission, which is not to say the same has reached standard levels, but at least its benefits can be felt in reduced power rationing.
Failed distribution systems, arising especially from faulty transformers, is a crisis that has caused the utility company’s customers untold suffering. The substandard transformers keep exploding all over the country and Kenya Power often takes ages to respond. Power surges are also a menace, more often than not resulting in destruction of customers’ domestic and commercial electric appliances.
Kenya Power’s biggest let down however, is the metering system, which has been turned into an indiscriminate cash cow by the company’s fraudulent employees, with devastating consequences on customers.
Daudi (not his true name), suffered fraudulent meter readings when he lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment along Airport North Road, Embakasi, Nairobi between 2013 and 2015. Irrespective of the fact that he was hardly in the house over weekdays, his monthly spend on electricity could go up to Sh5000 with lowest ever paid being Sh2500. Water hardly flowed in the house, meaning he never used instant showers. His only electric appliances were the TV and a music system which were hardly on, as he was rarely around. He had no fridge. Complaints to Kenya Power, which at the time could only be reported physically at Electricity House in Nairobi’s CBD after braving winding queues, yielded nothing.
He eventually moved to another apartment whose metering system was by tokens shortly after starting a family. His house now had life throughout the day and with the coming of kids, the use of electricity increased. The new house had two bathrooms, both utilizing overhead showers. His electricity bills however, did not ever surpass Sh2000 per month for the entire six and a half years he stayed there, from 2015 to 2022.
The father of two recently moved to a three-bedroom house in the same neighbourhood. While his family was happy for the new space, he was apprehensive of one thing; the old KPLC metering system. Assurances from the estate’s caretaker that tenants never had issues with the metering system was never convincing. For him, it was a case of once bitten, twice shy.
In fact, the caretaker proved to Daudi at the time he moved in May that his particular meter had an overpayment. The house had been evacuated in December 2021 with the meter readings at 30956.40 and an overpayment of Sh4,421.29, and the status quo stood throughout the period the three-bedroom apartment remained vacant. Two weeks after Daudi moved in, the meter readings climbed with 13.6units to 30970 and the overpayment dropped with Sh740.59 to Sh3,680.70 with the amount due at Sh0, an average of Sh750 in two weeks or Sh1500 in a month. Everything looked fine. If anything, the new apartment has a solar heating system, which effectively cuts power usage on overhead shower heaters. As well, Daudi has the TV and Wi-Fi router as his only electric appliances. No fridge. No electric cooker. No electric kettle. No music system. Maybe, just maybe, the caretaker was right, Kenya Power styled up. They even have a well-designed, responsive mobile phone App for the post paid customers!
Come the end of May and Kenya Power pounced back in its old fashion. Daudi’s meter readings climbed by 54.46units. Note the discrepancy of unit usage in the same span of period – first two weeks, 13.6units and the second two weeks, 54.46 units all other factors remaining constant. The bill on the other hand, shot to above Sh3,600, all the overpayment having already been expended. This meant for the one month Daudi had occupied the house, he consumed power worth about Sh8,000. This shocked even the caretaker. He took it up with the owners of the estate who, with wide networks, got Kenya power to, strangely, regularize their meter readings. Since then, the amount due has been cut to Sh0 and the balance (overpayment) and meter readings stagnated at Sh3,702.71 and 31299 units respectively. Those were the readings even at the time of going to press. Stranger still, Kenya Power’s meter readings of 31299 units as per their mobile app is way above the actual reading at the source. The readings remained at 31299 units at the time of going to press on June 26 even as the meter at the estate stood at 31061.64.
The apprehension for Daudi now is that the bill that Kenya Power is likely to slap on him some months or a year and so later, the gymnastics they are currently playing on him notwithstanding, will be prohibitive. The sad bit is that he will have no redress. He will have to pay; it is what monopoly does to besieged consumers of an indispensable service!
Another consumer, Katarina, moved to a one-bedroom house with a postpaid power system. Her previous residence of the same size had a prepaid system and her average monthly spend was Sh500. A private school teacher, Katarina is hardly ever in the house. Her son, a college-going student, is, equally, never in the house. They do not run their fridge and water dispenser. Their biggest power use is on lighting, TV and Wi-Fi. Her bill did not change much. The highest ever was Sh1500. January this year however, the landlord and KP got into a deal to change the metering system into prepaid. Midway, the project stalled. Some tenants were moved to prepaid, others were not. She was among the unfortunate. Since the said January, power bills never came but she kept paying Sh1000 every month just so she is not caught on the wrong footing. In April, however, her connection was cut off without warning and she was slapped with a bill of Sh6100. She paid. Her connection was again cut off in May and on inquiry at the Donholm KP offices, she discovered she had incurred yet again another bill of Sh7000 which she had to pay before reconnection. She doesn’t know what the bill for June will be and for how long this will go on.
These two cases are representative of what the monopolistic KP is subjecting Kenyans to. Subdued and without recourse, the suffering by the masses is unbearable. Just what happened to the massive movement of metering from postpaid to prepaid, which had seemed to deal a blow to the fraudulent meter reading at KP?
KP is what Kodak, KP&TC, and Eveready Batteries ever were before technology swallowed them. With ever-growing alternatives in power technology particularly in solar energy, it is just a matter of time. The company would be well advised to improve its service delivery and rein in the metering fraud that continues to flourish unabated.