Convicted telephone and electricity cable thieves will pay a Sh5 million fine or serve up to 10 years in jail if President Kibaki accepts Parliament’s changes to legislation on vandalism.
The changes have strengthened the regulators’ power to deal with rampant destruction and theft of utility equipment such as internet cables and electricity transformers.
Attorney-General Githu Muigai initiated the changes as part of the amendments he introduced in the House last Wednesday to protect those who have invested in key national infrastructure.
The penalties were enhanced through amendments to the Kenya Information and Communications Act 1998 and the Energy Act 2006 , which are now awaiting presidential assent.
Under the current laws, destruction of electricity and power cables is punishable by a fine of Sh100,000, a jail term of three years or both.
Key players in the utility services market welcomed the changes, saying it was the only way to save the billions of shillings they lose to thieves and vandals every year.
“The continued treatment of vandalism as a petty crime is the reason many criminals continue in the act with devastating consequences,” said Kenya Power corporate communications manager Migwi Theuri. “The new laws should help us to effectively deal with the problem.”
Turkana Central MP Ekwee Ethuro backed up the enhanced penalties with a broader definition of vandalism as contained in Section 25 of the Communications Commission Act and the Energy Act.
“We must give the CCK and the Energy Regulatory Commission more teeth to deal with those who interfere with infrastructure that is critical to our country’s development,” Mr Ethuro said.
Mr Theuri said vandals have mainly targeted Kenya Power’s distribution lines and cables as well as transformers, leaving the company with huge losses and at loggerheads with consumers outraged by power outages.
Kenya Power suffered Sh800 million loss in the first five months of the year in missed business opportunities and replacement of stolen or vandalised equipment.
Destruction of power cables or transformers has frequently left consumers in darkness with grave consequences on the company’s relationship with its consumers.
Water and telecoms companies have also suffered similar consequences with rampant destruction of pipes or cables leaving consumers’ taps dry or without telephone or internet connection.
Parliament has now expanded the definition of vandalism to include wilful, negligent, reckless and/or malicious acts of stealing, damaging or breaking into communication apparatus, lines, installations, hardware, software or stations used for telecommunication services and systems.
Mr Ethuro also targeted saboteurs who interfere with communication services, prescribing jail terms of at least 10 years, a fine of Sh10 million or both.
Jamii Telecommunication welcomed the stiffer penalties even as it demanded that road and sewerage contractors who cut cables through acts of negligence be included in the Act and be held liable for their actions
“Road and sewerage contractors should be compelled to issue a performance bond so that if they cut a fiber cable they are made liable for it,” said the company’s chairman, Joshua Chepkwony.
The firm, which has leased its fibre capacity to telecoms operator Safaricom, said it loses Sh300 million annually in repair of fibre optics alone.
If President Kibaki assents to the amendments, those who cut telecommunication links will face a minimum fine of Sh5 million, a 10 year jail term or both.
The new law will also see those found interfering with the management or operation of energy apparatus such as extinguishing any public lights, vandalising of any energy works under construction, stealing, breaking or damaging energy works face similar punishment.
Mr Ethuro’s intervention, however, saved convicted vandals the pain of serving a lifetime imprisonment that had been proposed in an earlier amendment.
Prof Muigai had proposed that vandalism of telecommunication equipment attract a Sh10 million fine or life imprisonment.
In the case of power equipment, Prof Muigai had recommended life imprisonment without the option of a fine.
Finance minister Njeru Githae said during his Budget speech that the thieves would be fined Sh1 million or jailed for three years.
The minister also targeted scrap metal dealers with a promise of more stringent supervision that includes the tracing of every consignment to its origin.
“Scrap metal dealers who buy stolen and vandalised cables, wires, rail guards, signage and transformers, among others, are economic criminals who deserve to live in jails,” Mr Githae said.
Mr Githae said the deterrents would be enhanced to deal with the prevailing impression that the measures currently in place are too lenient in view of the economic sabotage caused.