It’s a baptism of fire for Mohamed at Kenya Power

Kenya Power board chairman  Mahboub Mohamed. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Kenya Power board chairman Mahboub Mohamed. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Assuming the top role in an organisation of the stature of Kenya Power ordinarily comes with a-feel-good effect with compliments and accolades to boot.

Mahboub Mohamed’s entry into office as chair of the power firm on Tuesday morning was however marked by oddities.

His big moment was overshadowed by a deafening public outcry by consumers dissatisfied with the firm’s billing services.

The mainstream and social media has been awash with complaints that the utility firm was overcharging electricity consumers and failing to disclose to homes and businesses backdated bills worth Sh8.1 billion, which it started recovering from November.

Kenya Power disclosed the large bill in its annual report, clarifying that costly power due to increased uptake of expensive diesel-generated electricity was not fully billed to homes and businesses between last February and August.

But that was not all for the new official.

Only a few hours into his new role, large swathes of the country suffered a major power outage caused by a transmission problem.

The social media swiftly erupted with condemnation and hilarious chides. @wilson_smarti wrote: “So he switched off the power just to ensure we know he’s the boss from today? Ok.”

@julietbme wrote: “And this is how they welcome him... Shutting down power everywhere.”

@MinorJstn wrote: “No wonder the blackout.”

Mohamed, who succeeded former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, will have to live with this kind of tirade regularly even as the utility firm worked to improve its shaky grid that has been blamed for frequent blackouts which left businesses with massive losses. Although the frequency and severity of power outages in the country has reduced over the years, many firms are still forced to run stand-by generators to cope with interruptions.

“I am not deluded that I am walking into an easy job. It is going to be a challenge,” Mohamed, 60, pointed out when he took office on Tuesday.

He was swift to add that his priority would be to enhance service delivery to homes and businesses as well as strive to hand shareholders of the Nairobi bourse listed firm handsome returns.

The how and when, were however missing in his maiden speech at Stima Plaza in Nairobi.

Mr Mohamed, a graduate of Civil Engineering from Texas A&I University in the US, will bank on his experience in the public sector to steer Kenya Power out of its operational woes.

He has previously held senior roles in government as well as regional bodies.

“Mohamed brings to the company’s leadership a wide range of local and international experience in public service and corporate governance, we pledge our full support as he guides the company towards meeting its strategic objectives,” the Kenya Power board said in a statement announcing his appointment. Mohamed is a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of State for Special Programmes, Office of the President, from 2003 to 2008 when he was appointed Assistant Minister Electricity and Renewable Energy.

He previously served as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and as an executive director at the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad).

He was also an ambassador to the Igad. Mohamed has also served in various positions at the World Bank.

Kenyans will keenly watch how he guides the power firm in implementing key projects including the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) funded Last Mile Connectivity Project (LMCP) which targets to achieve universal connection for households by 2020.

The project is currently in its second phase. Under the AfDB phase II of LMCP, 314,200 households will be connected utilising 5,320 existing distribution transformers across the 47 counties at a cost of Sh13.5 billion.

AfDB will cover 87 per cent while the government will provide 13 per cent of the total amount.

The project will involve 15 contracts for works spread across the country.

In phase 1 of the LMCP, 314,200 households are being connected to the power grid at a cost of Sh13.5 billion, funded by AfDB which contributed 90 per cent of the amount with the government providing the balance of 10 per cent.

In the 2016/17 fiscal year, Kenya Power’s customer base grew by 1.4 million to 6,182,282, raising the country’s electricity connectivity access rate from 27 per cent in 2013 to 70.3 per cent as at June 30, 2017.

Mohamed also joins Kenya Power at a time it’s fighting vices such as illegal connections and vandalism of equipment including transformers and power transmission lines.