Losses, death traps as cartels thrive on illegal electricity lines

Informal settlements have turned into a battle ground between Kenya Power and an illegal electricity distribution enterprise run by rogue company officials.

Tthe Sunday Standard has learned from multiple sources that sleazy employees of the utility company are helping cartels control power in informal settlements by tapping electricity from Kenya Power transmission lines and transformers.

But what was initially the only way for under-served areas in the informal settlements to access electricity is now crossing over to flats and other houses that are coming up.

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Since November, Kenya Power has been on a campaign to disconnect the illegal connections in Tassia, Pipeline, Mukuru kwa Njenga and Kibra.

The campaign has left thousands of homes in darkness and brought to light an enterprise that thrives on illegal distribution of electricity in poor and under-serviced areas.

Although Kenya Power says it cannot estimate the amount of money it loses through power theft and illegal connections, anecdotes suggest this is a multi-million-shilling enterprise.

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In its 2018/19 financial report, Kenya Power said the system losses had increased from 18.9 per cent the previous year to 20.5 per cent.

The system losses have been partly blamed on the rapid expansion at low voltage under the Last Mile and other connectivity programmes.

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The losses were attributed to pilferage by tapping directly to power lines and supplying users with electricity, meter tampering and faulty meters.

The illegal connections are made when a person taps power from the national grid without a meter. As a result, the power utility cannot monitor the electricity consumption. In the informal settlements, this practice is known as sambaza.

To cure the problem of lack of electricity access, the power utility collaborated with the Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project (KISIP), a World Bank-supported programme to fund new legal power connections.

By subsidising the cost of electricity to low-income earners, the World Bank and Kenya Power hoped to bring an end to the illegal connections. Beneficiaries were required to pay Sh1,165 for new connections.

“Over time the gangs that were running the electricity cartels in the informal settlements disconnected those customers and put them on sambaza. So they removed those connections and made them vulnerable so that they can supply their power,” Kenya Power said. The gangs that make money by supplying illegal connections charge a flat monthly fee of Sh500 for the electricity.

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Part of the problem is due to outsourcing of contractors.

Kenya Power says outsourcing has helped reduce operational costs and take advantage of outside experience but it has also opened a leeway for energy losses.

“It has also been a source of vandalism, safety concerns, energy losses, poor quality of service delivery and fraud,” said Kenya Power.

The current crackdown raises more questions than answers and heavily alludes to the culpability of Kenya Power officials.

Under-the-table deals

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For an enterprise that thrives on providing lighting, it is opaque in that it is hard to piece together how the money flows. Officials from the company could not rule out the involvement of their staff.

Mathew Asuga, one of the affected residents in Mukuru questioned the extent to which the power officials were involved.

“They are the same ones who come to repair the transformers when they break down, how can they then say this connection is illegal?

“To solve this problem, Kenya Power has to start from within. They should stop making under-the-table electricity deals,” he said.

It is instructive that despite the hefty fine and lengthy prison sentences that illegal power connection carries, the enterprise is thriving, suggesting a possible collusion with Kenya Power staff.

Those found guilty of carrying out illegal electricity connection face a fine of Sh5 million or 10 years in prison.

Kenya Power Security Manager Maj (Rtd) Geoffrey Kigen concedes to the possibility of the involvement of their staff in the illegal connections racket.

“I cannot rule that out and that is why we are doing a comprehensive investigations because if we disconnect power, those affected will give up their links in Kenya Power,” Kigen says.

Kigen says some of their employees are already under investigation.

As the commercial losses persist due to unscrupulous employees, consumers now stand the risk of higher electricity bills as the company attempts to recoup the losses.

In Mukuru kwa Njenga where Kenya Power took away four transformers last week, it is not difficult to pick out the connections. Wires dangle precariously overhead the mud-walled and tin-roofed houses, some of them exposed, posing a threat to residents.

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Kenya PowerElectricityMukuru kwa Njenga