Lying to the President: How Kenya Power managers cooked Last Mile connection figures

President Uhuru Kenyatta switches on electricity at Mr. Lelei's home in Kapkatembo during the launch of last mile connectivity project in Nandi County. Also present is Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Petroleum, Charles Keter.

Pressure from the Jubilee administration to connect one million new customers to electricity every year may have pushed employees of Kenya Power to deliberately report ‘fake’ numbers to meet their targets.

An internal communication by top management seen by Weekend Business reveals that the power utility bosses have ‘spent a lot of money to clean up the mess’ but the vice has refused to go away.

This is after an internal audit showed about one million of the connections from the 3.6 million new customers could be fake or have never been topped up.

According to the leaked correspondence, managers are seen discussing how the ‘fake’ numbers were embarrassing the company. “It is high time that we punished leaders who have decided to deliberately embarrass the company by reporting fake numbers. We are at the moment spending a lot of money cleaning previous mess (sic) where close to a million meters have not vended for more than three months,” one of the managers writes in response to the revelations.

This means either the meters were still lying idle in some warehouses or had been left with a customer but not yet installed. Nevertheless, the employees went ahead and reported these as new connections.

“The company has standard operating procedures, which our members of staff and contractors adhere to during all operations including meter installations. The procedures do not require customers to fix meters for themselves or seek services of private electricians to install meters,” Eng Peter Mwichigi, General Manager, Customer Service at Kenya Power said in a statement.

Weekend Business has learnt that due to the pressure to deliver results before the election, the Kenya Power staff have been activating the meters and passing them as new connections even when they are not installed on any house.

An audit by its technical teams confirmed that the vice was still on as late as last week when President Uhuru Kenyatta made his State of the Nation address in which he listed electricity connections as one of his administration’s top achievements.

“For the last four days our technical audit team was reviewing connectivity report by calling our newly connected customers to confirm that they are actually connected as shown in the ICS system,” another email fired by a Mr Charles Cheruiyot says.

“Some customers confirmed that the meters were left with them by our staff/contractors to get their own electricians to fix the meters,” Mr Cheruiyot writes. The email was written on March 10, 2017 to all managers following the connectivity report. Copied in the email is the new Kenya Power boss, Mr Ken Tarus. The subject of the email was ‘activation of meters before installing.’

Cheruiyot said that his team had visited a customer in Parklands, Nairobi as late as last week and the vice was still going on. “With the help of our security team, we found 193 new prepaid meters which were in custody of the customer,” he said.

“All the 193 prepaid meters were issued to our staff between January and February 2017 and all of them had been activated in the system,” he noted.

Another manager, Eng Mwichigi shot back. “This is unfortunate, I thought we should be role models to our juniors. We have allocated a lot of financial support to assist in getting “REAL” numbers,” he wrote.

The revelation is set to water down the government’s efforts in connecting millions of Kenyans to the national grid. It could also sabotage the Sh50 billion last mile project that is largely funded by foreign governments.

Contacted for an official comment, Kenya Power confirmed that 940,668 meters had been identified as non-vending. Vending refers to the process where customers buy electricity tokens on prepaid. “Procedurally, all prepaid meters are activated after installation. However, in a recent report, a number of these prepaid meters totalling 940,668 have been identified as non- vending mainly because of low consumption especially in rural areas and informal settlements where most of these customers were drawn from,” the power firm said.

Even just on the strength of this revelation, it means that almost a third of the people who have been connected under the new government have never topped up.

“We have a total of 5.8 million customers connected to the grid, about 3.6 million of these customers were added since 2013,” the firm said. The number could be more if the post paid meters are factored in.

Kenya Power blamed meter bypasses and other forms of meter tampering by customers for the vice, saying in such cases, it has disconnected supply and recovered the meters. “The company observed that most of these customers took long to exhaust 30 units of electricity advanced to them at the point of installation with the bulk of them consuming less than 2 units per month,” the firm said.

Eng Mwichigi noted that cartels operating mainly in informal settlements were found to have provided customers with alternative illegal supply lines. “Other reasons include metering of new vacant houses/apartments (no tenants) and recoveries from demolished structures. We are implementing a remedial action plan to address these concerns and forestall/minimise such occurrences in future,” the firm said.

The firm said it would take unspecified disciplinary action against members of staff or contractors found culpable. “Procedurally, meter installations are conducted by KPLC technicians or authorised contractors only. The company will take disciplinary measures against members of staff or contractors found to have abetted such malpractices as activating meters before installation,” Kenya Power said in the emailed interview.

The Jubilee administration has been pushing the power connection narrative as one of its greatest achievements ahead of the next general election. During his address in Parliament last week, President Kenyatta said his government had injected an additional 634 MW of new power to the national grid in the last one year. Kenyatta said this raised Kenya’s total installed capacity to 2,282 MW.

“We appreciate that taking the power we generate into every Kenyan home is just as important as generating it. That is why we have built more than 10,000 kilometers of high-capacity transmission and distribution lines, which now connect more parts of the country to the national grid than ever before, some of them for the very first time since Independence,” Kenyatta said.

The Head of State singled out Garissa as a case in point in his speech saying: it will receive its first-ever electric power supply from the national grid next month. “That shows our commitment to the Nationalist Covenant and the inclusion of all. This has enabled us to connect many more Kenyans to the national grid,” he said.

In the last twelve months, the Government says it has connected an additional 1.2 million Kenyans to electricity in their homes and places of work. “My Government’s street lighting initiative will have completed the installation of 26,000 new streetlights across five counties by mid-2016. We have extended this programme to another 50 towns across the country,” he said.

The Government has been pushing the connections agenda on grounds that it would improve security and make the 24-hour economy a reality. “Traders like Dominic Ombaka in Mathare; Asha Abdalla and Mabel Barasa in Kisii can keep their businesses open longer because of improved security. Asha and Mabel, have moved from using kerosene to using electricity,” Kenyatta told Parliament.

The fake numbers are also likely to jolt donors and other agencies that have injected more than Sh50 billion to support the subsidised Last Mile project.

The energy ministry ordered Kenya Power to stop the costlier normal connections in favour of the subsidised alternative.