Rich households have joined the electricity pilferage bandwagon often associated with informal settlements aggravating Kenya Power’s commercial losses.
The estates particularly in Nairobi metropolitan area, have become hotspots that harbour electricity stealing tricks, with their solid fences and gates providing comfortable cover, away from Kenya Power’s inspection radar.
The power distributor now says its crackdown to eliminate power pilferage has been heightened even as wealthier households whose consumption is much higher now add to the wattage of power likely to be lost.
“The illegal connections in informal settlement still surpass those in formal settlements. Having said that, we have devised a mutually beneficial, collaborative strategy that will involve the community, law enforcement and other players in order to safeguard our network in informal settlements, with the goal being to purge the network off illegal connections,” Kenya Power said in response to queries over emerging trend of illegal connections.
Consumers employ a more sophisticated meter-related theft where they make illegal connections by bypassing the gadget to evade paying the utility company.
This has left innocent customers paying for power which their crafty neighbours have used especially in high-rise flats and terraced houses.
Instead of tapping electricity within their own wiring line, culprits tap the neighbouring meter line, reflecting the high consumption rate and billing experienced by gullible clients.
A phone call and a connection fee of Sh5,000, residents and shop owners two of the estates in Athi River can enjoy free and unlimited electricity.
With the faltered economy fuelled by Covid-19, it even became more pressing for these consumers to engage in various power illegalities to cut costs of their business operations.
Electricians plying their trade within the estates, some unlicensed, are hired to execute the scheme in full knowledge of the estate management and, in some cases, with the help of informants within Kenya Power.
The trend stretches to bordering regions such as Lukenya, Mavoko, and Mlolongo.
Following a recent inspection on all installations and meters in Athi River, several households and businesses were found to have meter-related irregularities.
Although none of the defaulters were referred for a criminal prosecution, the utility took a hard line on the illegal connections switching off the power until they settled the fines and their meters bills adjusted.
The inspection came after the utility company detected anomalies in the customers’ meters, raising a red flag about the several suspicious connections that could be presenting a loophole for power and revenue losses to the company.
A similar operation has been previously witnessed in Imara Daima estate, Tassia, Embakasi, and Makongeni.
Shop owners also liaise with the estate management to tap power from the security light lines.
Kenya Power sales manager Margret Kanini said registered meter owners are held liable for breaches, making the scheme a risk for some consumers who may not be aware their connections have been breached by those seeking to consume free electricity.
“The contractual responsibility to ensure that the meter is in good working condition and free from interference lies with the account holder,” Ms Kanini said.
An ex-Kenya Power employee who sought anonymity has been in the scheme for over three years now confides that the matter is a “widespread theft largely proliferated by KPLC staff.” Some staff, especially those in field operations, aid the fraudulent practices such as direct connections, faking meter reading, and meter tampering, among other irregularities for personal financial gain.
To ensure theft goes unnoticed, he says that “informants within KPLC constantly brief customers about impending inspections and link them with brokers to temporarily rectify tampered meters.”
Sign up for free AllAfrica Newsletters
Get the latest in African news delivered straight to your inbox
Between June 2020 and Dec 2020, just when the country experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases that locked most people at home, Kenya Power conducted a nationwide inspection that targeted 365, 930 meters across different customer categories. Out of these, 10, 622 meters had anomalies were rectified.
The anomalies ranged from faulty meters to bypassing, power loss, and illegal connections, among other deviations. At the same time, stay-at-home orders increased electricity consumption by households by five percent, according to Kenya Power.
Read: Kenya Power moves to cut off all illegal connections
However, by June 2020, the firm had already lost Sh5.6 billion in electricity sales, citing Covid-related interruption that hit power consumption by commercial-industries and SMEs customers who contribute 90 percent of the revenue.
In early 2020, the firm announced a nationwide plot to meter all transformers to keep tabs on power pilferage. It is yet to be actualised. The idea was to narrow down specific locations and estates where people are enjoying stolen electricity.