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Oimeke smooth run hits a rocky patch

Robert Pavel Oimeke
Robert Pavel Oimeke. PHOTO | NMG 

For Robert Pavel Oimeke, it has been an edgy experience as the director-general of the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA).

His three years at the helm coincided with a change-over from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to the EPRA with an expanded mandate to supervise and regulate upstream petroleum operations following the enactment of the Energy Act 2019 and the Petroleum Act 2019.

This technically meant more work and responsibility for the man affectionately referred to as “mfalme (king)” by peers and “scorpion” by some industry players who at some point fell victim of his strict law enforcement ways.

With the bigger command, Mr Oimeke took to “straightening up” things in the industry with big emphasis on enforcement and customer protection. This saw massive raids on petrol stations and gas filling sites, rattling many businesses. For example, in 2019 alone EPRA shut down 24 petrol stations that were found selling export or adulterated petroleum products while 11 illegal petroleum sites and two Liquefied Petroleum Gas(LPG) sites were demolished.

Additionally, 34 licences were revoked for lack of compliance with the licensing conditions stipulated in the Energy Act, 2019 and the Petroleum Act 2019.

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Mr Oimeke also oversaw the development of an Industrial tariff at 220Kv for Naivasha Special Economic Zone. During his term, the regulator also spearheaded the amendment of the Income Tax Act through the Finance Act, 2018, effective January 1, 2019 which provides that 30 percent of electricity costs incurred by manufacturers will not be subjected to tax. The rebate programme was gazetted on July 31, 2019 and is currently under implementation.

With these achievements Mr Oimeke may have been certain of a comfortable second-term in office but that now hangs in the balance following this week’s dramatic decision by the EPRA board that he steps aside pending the conclusion of case filed against him in court.

“Action taken regarding the occupancy of the office of director-general has led to a petition filed in court. The court, in exercise of its constitutional mandate, has issued conservatory orders, which the board must obey,” the EPRA board chairman, Jackton Ojwang’ announced on Monday.

“These orders have compelled the board to require the director-general Mr Oimeke to step aside, until the judicial restrictions are lifted through orders made in court.”

The board later announced that the corporation secretary/director of legal affairs Mueni Mutung’a had been appointed to replace him in an acting capacity.

Coincidentally, the closure of suspected illegal gas refill plants and confiscation of LPG cylinders is among the issues raised in court against him because many felt that instead of curbing illegal trade, the regulator targeted the killing of small businesses with an aim to monopilise the sector.

In the court case filed by Emmanuel Wanjala, Mr Oimeke is also accused of operating an ungazetted holding yard where impounded petroleum and gas tankers are kept, thereby exposing the public to great danger of petroleum and gas accidents.

In the petition, which is to be heard in October, Mr Wanjala said there has been massive losses in the sector be it due to spillages, installation of faulty meters, corruption, court cases against the

He claimed that the losses are likely to increase thereby crippling the authority and the sector increasing the burden on a weakened taxpayer, if the board extends his tenure.

“The manner in which he runs and conducts business as the Director General of the authority does not only raise ethical questions but also contravenes provisions of the constitution and statutory provisions regulating public institutions and the conduct of public servants,” he said in an affidavit.

Lawyer Henry Karauka told the court that the director general must be a member of relevant professional body as clearly stipulated under section 13(3)(e) of the Energy Act and he believes that he does not meet this requirement and contends that there are many qualified candidates in the country, who can hold the post.

Mr Oimeke was a former director for renewable energy at ERC before he was appointed to the current position after serving in an acting capacity for a few months. He took over from Joseph Ng’ang’a in 2017, after the latter attained the retirement age of 60.

He previously worked at Finlays Kenya Limited and Kenya Tea Development Agency in research and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions for the manufacturing and tea sectors in the country.

He has also served as a consultant for the World Bank funded multi-agency programme, Lake Victoria Environment Programme implemented in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

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