System hitch leaves power consumers in darkness

Kenya Power managing director Ken Tarus. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya Power managing director Ken Tarus. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Electricity distributor Kenya Power #ticker:KPLC has come under renewed pressure following a weekend of paralysis in its electronic payment system that made it impossible for consumers on prepaid meters to buy tokens they need to get the service.

Customers started experiencing the tokens generation hitch on Friday evening and through the weekend, leaving thousands of homes and small businesses like barber shops without electricity.

Kenya Power processes up to 200,000 electronic top-up transactions per day, 85 per cent of it through M-Pesa paybill number 888880.

The remaining portion is handled by authorised third-party vendors like Vendit (paybill number 501200) and Dynamo (800904).

The firm yesterday admitted that its system had encountered challenges that crippled token generation across all vendors, advising customers on prepaid meters to buy the units from its banking halls until normalcy returned.

“The IT team is trying to figure out where the problem was before we issue a comprehensive statement on the issue,” Kenya Power said, adding that the problem had been resolved by yesterday afternoon.

A number of customers, who use Vendit, confirmed that they had successfully bought tokens yesterday afternoon.

Inflated bills

Meanwhile, thousands of electricity consumers lodged complaints over inflated power bills, after they were sent bills of up to 16 times more than their normal obligations.

One holder of account number 30624694, for instance, reported that she received a post-paid bill of Sh16,765 for March, up from Sh894 the previous month, leaving her hard-pressed to raise the cash after her power was disconnected due to the arrears.

She contacted the utility firm and had the anomaly resolved, reducing her bill to just over Sh1,000.

Kenya Power maintains it cannot read all postpaid meters across the country, forcing it to make estimates for a number of customers, which is the cause of the inflated bills.

It has recently announced plans to put all domestic consumers on prepaid meters so as to slash the number of payment defaults and cut operation costs on meter reading and postage expenses.

The Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed firm has also adopted a new integrated customer management system to enable customers self-check their power consumption and payment obligations through a smartphone app.

Denies foul play

In the past, concerns have been raised that customers often encounter delays when buying tokens through Kenya Power’s paybill number 888880, unlike through other vendors. This has raised questions on the ownership of the vendors and the cash commissions they are entitled to.

Kenya Power denied any foul play, saying the authorisation of other vendors to sell tokens was meant to ease pressure on its payment channel, which handles 85 per cent of the total volume of transactions totalling 200,000 per day.

“In fact we have 11 vendors, including Equitel. It’s just that people are only aware of Vendit and Dynamo because they have been aggressive in their marketing,” Kenya Power said.

The system outage throughout the weekend knocked affected small businesses hard, cooling down activity.

“My business usually thrives during weekends but I was forced to close early in the evening due to lack of power despite the fact that I had paid for the tokens that were never generated,” said John Kamau, a fast food restaurant owner in Nairobi.

John Kimilu, a barber shop operator, was also forced to close business early.

Kenya Power has been battling court cases over inflated power bills after it emerged that the utility firm was backdating bills worth Sh10.1 billion from last November.

The hefty bill to be backdated was in the company’s annual report and was to be recovered for costs incurred on diesel generators last year which were not factored in monthly charges ahead of the August 8 elections.

Apollo & Co Advocates sued Kenya Power, arguing the firm had abused its monopoly and market dominance in misleading consumers on pricing and was in breach of consumer laws by failing to make disclosure on the backdated bills.

About Sh2 billion has been recovered so far, leaving out Sh8.1 billion that will be passed on to consumers in monthly invoices.