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Riddle of agency’s Sh800m ‘sub-standard’ power poles

By Nzau Musau | June 1st 2019 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

A Kenya Power personnel at work along Kiambu Kirigiti road on February 2 ,2015. [File, Standard]

The battle to stop a state agency from disposing Sh800 million worth of electricity poles has spilled over to the courts and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

What started as a mere complaint from one supplier - Inter Tropical Timber Ltd- to Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, has since morphed into a court order by Justice J A Makau stopping Rural Electrification Authority (REA) from interfering with the 51,238 substandard poles. 

And now, the law firm of Kinyua Njagi & Company Advocates has written to DCI alerting them of the preservation orders granted by the courts and seeking an update on an earlier complaint in March on the same matter.

“Kindly note the court issued the orders for the preservation of the substandard poles as the same are exhibits which your office needs to urgently examine and scrutinise to guide the court on the criminal culpability of the respondents,” the lawyer’s letter dated May 16 to DCI says.

Collusion

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Before Justice Makau issued the orders on May 8, the petitioner told the court that REA, now renamed Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC), was returning the poles to their suppliers despite an ongoing investigation as to how they were accepted in the first place. The petitioner alleges collusion of top REREC officials and suppliers in approval of substandard poles before he disapproved them in tests. Besides, he argues that firms which supplied the poles ought to return the public monies paid to them before collecting them.

“It is hereby ordered that pending hearing and determination of the application interpartes, a conservatory order be and is hereby issued suspending the first respondent decision to return 51,238 substandard treated power transmission wooden poles currently held at Makuyu, Mariakani and Kisumu-Awasi,” Justice Makau ordered. In February, Inter Tropical wrote to Kenya Bureau of Standard (Kebs) complaining that the life-span of power poles had suddenly dropped from 30-40 years to less than 5 years. The complaint caught the eye of Energy Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge and the CS who ordered a probe to ascertain the claims.

“Please take note of the contents of the subject letter and revert with the comments on the issues raised therein for further necessary action,” PS Njoroge wrote on February 28.

A few days earlier, Mr Keter had, in a handwritten note asked REA to “confirm and urgently get me a quick response and if true those involved must face the law.”

A report by REA for the CS on the claims and dated March 5, lifted the lid on the operations of REA with regard to acceptance or rejection of poles on the basis of treatment. For instance, of all the 7,649 ten metre poles received in Mariakani’s REA stores since July 1, 2018, none had been rejected.

“Poles that do not meet the minimum requirements are rejected and set aside for the affected suppliers to collect within fifteen days. The suppliers whose poles fail the inspection are immediately notified of the inspection outcome,” Mbugua said in the report sent to CS, PS and the complainant.

But Inter Tropical claimed REA stores were infiltrated by quacks cum inspectors not accredited and who care less about specifications, safety and standards. REA gave in to the idea of external quality inspection by Kebs or “any other authorised body to conduct tests” on the poles in their stores. It is this acceptance of external inspection that has landed the matter to court whose hearing has been fixed for June 19. The first inspection done only at Makuyu store and to the exclusion of Kebs and Kenya Power was rejected by the petition as biased.

Reject biased report

“The petitioner did reject the biased report and sought the involvement of KP and Kebs in the re-inspection in all the stores which report by KP and countersigned by the 1st respondent inspection and acceptance officials confirmed that all the poles were substandard/rejects having failed the minimum retention of 20kg/m3,” an affidavit tabled in court states. REA on Monday moved to court seeking to lift the conservatory orders, saying the petitioner concealed important facts including that they could return substandard poles for re-treatment and re-supply under the terms of the contract.

Through lawyer Dennis Mosota, the State agency said the conservatory order has affected the rural electrification program and the realisation of the government’s last mile connectivity programme. In an affidavit sworn by Legal Affairs Manager Sharon Tugee, REA said the order was obtained in bad faith. On Tuesday, Justice Makau certified REA’s concerns as urgent and set mention on June 4.


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