Kenyan lawyer Apollo Mboya is fighting the nation’s sole electricity distributor. He has filed a precedent-setting suit against Kenya power to challenge alleged inflation of bills.
In the pro-bono case, Mboya is representing consumers who say they were overcharged last year, with their monthly bills jumping as much as three times in some cases.
After receiving unusually high electricity bills himself, the lawyer decided to dig deeper and found many Kenyans had the same experience.
There is a job I need to submit, I can't use the laptop neither can I use the TV. I was about to get shower I can't because I don't have power and charges went high. It's the dilemma of the youth. It's a bit expensive for me and I'm not getting the service I really want.
“So, it started with me and I complained on mine and they actually admitted on mine but I realized this thing is systemic and I decided that enough is enough let me do one action suit against Kenya Power for all the consumers who I realized when I went into social media they were complaining of inflated bills,” he said.
Mboya says he suspects the company is using mischievous methods to recover 10 million US dollars in fuel costs it says it incurred in a 2017 financial statement.
The company has said the higher charges were caused by the installation of a new billing system last July that was aimed at billing nearly all its 6.66 million customers more accurately.
Previously, only 60 percent of customers were billed correctly, with the rest receiving estimated bills.
The company now says it can capture precise electricity usage from 95 percent of its customers.
Hafifa Abdi Sharif runs a convenience store in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
She says her electricity bill keeps going up and suspects that she pays for power she hasn’t consumed, especially with the introduction of a prepaid system.
“Before, when we bought tokens worth 10 US dollars you would get many units of electricity. But it looks like Kenya Power was just welcoming us into the pre-paid system. Since we adapted it and started using the system they have reduced the units. I use 10 US dollars every day so in a month I spend 300 dollars on electricity alone,” she said.
Between spiraling bills, blackouts and delayed top ups, many Kenyans have lost faith in the nation’s sole electricity distributor.
Abdi Wahaba Aden has had to stop working on a proposal because of a black out. He says the electricity supply has become erratic yet his monthly bills remain high.
“There is a job I need to submit, I can’t use the laptop neither can I use the TV. I was about to get shower I can’t because I don’t have power and charges went high. It’s the dilemma of the youth. It’s a bit expensive for me and I’m not getting the service I really want,” said Abdi.
While the frequency and severity of outages in Kenya has fallen over the years, many firms still run stand-by generators to cope with interruptions.
Kenya has an installed electricity generating capacity of 2,341 megawatts, most of it from geothermal and hydroelectric power.
Kenya Power charges small domestic electricity consumers a rate of 2.50 shillings ($0.0249) per kilowatt-hour while large consumers pay more than eight times that rate.
Industrial consumers are charged about five times the rate of small home users, while all customers pay a standing charge of 150 shillings a month, plus tax.
Together with other monthly charges such as a fuel-cost charge for thermal plants, the bills are some of the highest in the region.
Kenyan consumers pay more for power than their counterparts in South Africa and Egypt. Energy experts say Kenya’s electricity is also made expensive by high transmission losses of 18.9 percent, from theft through illegal connections and technical reasons.
Mboya says he will be seeking a full financial audit of Kenya Power, and is also questioning the monopoly it enjoys.
“The power utility company and the principal secretary in the ministry of energy actually apologized to the country for what the consumers went through. So, we have gains, why I am still in court is that I want them now to publish all the accounts that were affected the amounts that were involved for the overbilling so that they can compensate the consumers. I don’t expect them to return the money but I expect to credit those account with the amounts that they over billed,” said Mboya.
Kenya’s energy minister, Charles Keter has ordered the sector regulator to review electricity tariffs after persistent complaints by consumers.
Keter says Kenya Power is ready for scrutiny by anybody, adding that its accounts are always audited and published because it is a listed company.