Columnists

Enhance critical infrastructure security

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Kenya Power has been dealt a blow after the procurement regulator froze a Sh1.5 billion tender for transformers following protest from local manufacturers. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG

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Summary

  • The government is in the middle of implementing reforms whose objective is to improve the efficiency of Kenya Power and redress imbalances in the sharing of investment risks and profits between the key players in the sector.
  • We have learnt a poignant lesson on security and surveillance of critical infrastructure.

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the electricity sector for several months. The government is in the middle of implementing reforms whose objective is to improve the efficiency of Kenya Power and redress imbalances in the sharing of investment risks and profits between the key players in the sector.

Predictably, the profound changes and the uncertainty were breeding resistance from those who have been profiting from the status quo. Thus, the circumstances combined to create a perfect environment for finger-pointing and even witch-hunts.

The industry was reeling from uncertainty when within just a few days and in an unprecedented occurrence a total of five transmission line towers suddenly collapsed in different parts of the country, plunging the country into darkness and power rationing.

Kenya Power blamed it on vandalism. The Kenya Transmission Company (Ketraco) insisted that the collapse of the giant steel structures was caused by unusually strong winds. The episode left me humming and reminiscing over the song and lyrics of the famous German dance-pop group, Milli Vanilli that was titled Blame It On the Rain.

Several top Kenya Power managers were arrested, accused of sabotage. Those arrests were an anti-climax indeed because these senior managers had only recently been promoted to act in positions left by a cohort that had only recently been sent home to pave the way for corruption investigations.

There was another anti-climax a week later. The Kenya Power managers were all released without being charged by the anti-terrorism detectives who were holding them on allegations of the serious crime of sabotage.

The episode ended with President Uhuru Kenyatta banning exports of scrap metal — suggesting that the State had come to the conclusion that vandalism was a big factor. Still, in the prevailing uncertainty and stiff resistance to reforms in the sector, the end of the events did not stop tongues from wagging.

There was another major factor fuelling suspicions in the sector, namely a deluge of unsubstantiated rumours behind the narrative that the collapse of the towers was the work of insiders specifically resisting the recent transfer of the highly-sensitive and corruption-ridden function management and operations of the National Control Centre from Kenya Power to Ketraco.

The National Control Centre is responsible for dispatch and scheduling of electricity and keeping records of the quantity and quality of supply on the national grid. According to this theory, the collapse of the towers had been contrived to show that Ketraco did not have the capacity to take up this responsibility.

We have learnt a poignant lesson on security and surveillance of critical infrastructure. Several questions arise. Are we invested enough in enhanced security and in early detection and investigation of security breaches of our critical infrastructure?

How safe are our power transmission lines, ports, power stations, dams, and sub-stations? Have we invested enough in constant monitoring and video surveillance of our systems?

These questions are pertinent because there was a time I heard that Ketraco had been in negotiation with some Israeli contractor to provide it with a comprehensive critical infrastructure security solution. The Israelis are big players in this space.

In 2017, the Ministry of Energy commenced negotiations with an Israeli company for a multi-million dollar project whose scope included provision of advanced systems and sensors capable of giving the entire Kenya Pipeline Company’s product pipelines and facilities a protection solution.

As a matter of fact, this project had progressed to the point where the Treasury had commenced negotiating a financing agreement of the project with Bank Hapoalim of Israel. The project did not see the light of day. The collapse of the electricity transmission tower should compel the government to start taking security of critical infrastructure more seriously.