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City lawyer vindicated after long battle on power bill fiasco

After leading a relentless fight for openness in electricity billing, Nairobi lawyer Apollo Mboya would be forgiven for feeling vindicated after 20 Kenya Power managers were charged in court over contracts for transformers, labour and transport.

Kenya Power had buried its head in the sand regarding how leaky transformers and expensive services increase power bills, and consumers read in the managers’ arraignment on charges of abuse of office and fraud a triumph over impunity.

Mr Mboya describes the prosecution as a good start.

“We are waiting for the next phase, which the Director of Public Prosecutions (Noordin Haji) promised on the billing system, where even the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will be involved as the tariff setter,” Mr Mboya told the Nation.

FAULTY TRANSFORMERS

On social media, Mr Mboya’s followers have been urging for charges to be preferred against the board of directors, who insiders say were the main beneficiaries of the Sh408 million faulty transformers tender.

Mr Mboya said he did not have the facts on who the beneficiaries of the transactions were and would not, therefore, speculate.

“The culpability is with the old and new managers who are in charge of operations. The board has a policy role but where they are culpable, they should take responsibility,” he said.

Mr Mboya said the focus should be on reforms to align the energy sector with the Constitution, which devolves power distribution alongside other utilities like water supply.

“Kenya Power’s operations need to be reassessed. It is now styled as an engineering company, and this explains why there is no customer focus, transparency in billing and procurement,” Mr Mboya said.

On Monday, the board sought to assure stakeholders that the company’s operations will not be affected, despite most of its senior managers being in the dock.

“The company has in place a business continuity strategy, hence all operations will continue normally,” Kenya Power board Chairman Mahboub Maalim Mohamed said.

INTERIM TEAM

At a media briefing later in the day where an interim team led by Mr Jared Omondi Otieno was appointed to manage the company, Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter declined to take questions.

He said the interim team would serve for three months, pending restructuring.

Kenya Power said the board had asked the legal department to establish the fate of the 20 managers who were charged in court.

The options include suspension on full pay for two months, suspension for two months on half pay as per labour laws, and suspension without pay.

“The board has asked to be briefed on the options this morning. We will communicate the decision,” spokesman Johnstone ole Turana said.

Urged on by consumers and against great odds, Mr Mboya has been a one-man crusade for fair billing of consumers.

He filed a class action suit against the electricity distributor in January for abusing its monopoly by inflating power bills, thereby infringing on consumer rights.

The case arose from Kenya Power’s attempt to recover Sh10.1 billion from customers retrospectively.

INFLATED POWER BILLS

Mr Mboya said in suit papers that the inflated power bills started in October last year, much to the chagrin of consumers, who were mobilised to participate in the suit through an e-mail address, [email protected]

When he filed the suit he said he had received 600 complaints on overbilling, a reduction in units, malfunctioning equipment, quality of electricity, customer care, bill adjustments, unexplained and fluctuating tariffs, standard charges exceeding the value of the actual electricity and standing amounts deducted from some accounts.

The suit saw Kenya Power stopped by High Court Judge Chacha Mwita from recovering Sh8.1 billion from consumers until the case is heard and determined. At the time, Sh2 billion had been recovered.

In May, the High Court in Nairobi directed Kenya Power and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to respond to the petition.

Some people questioned what motivated Mr Mboya’s crusade and accused him of being caught up in Kenya Power management.