26 January 2013

Kenya Power Is Holding the Country Back


I started writing this column in William Pike's (Star CEO) office where I was temporarily squatting near a socket. Power cut, you see: one of the all-day, scheduled ones.

They seem to occur weekly these days, sometimes seemingly scheduled, but unannounced. I had tried to find out why we're having weekly all-day power cuts (so annoying when your work requires electricity). The answer I received from KPLC was vague: something about repair works in order to make the network better for us, the esteemed clients.

All well and good, but it did make me wonder, why is there so much leftover maintenance to be done that it requires days and days off? What kind of project management is this? And why isn't anyone ever a bit more precise about what exactly is going on, for how long?

KPLC is like traffic and potholes in Nairobi. One of those things that remind you daily that no, the infrastructure of your 21st century, industrialised life will not just unobtrusively be there to let you get on with things. You will bloody well put in an effort to get on with life and work in Nairobi.

Really Nairobi, I'd love you, I'd love you more - if only you weren't so very difficult.I've had plenty of opportunity to ponder the issues surrounding KPLC recently.

Last year in November, there seems to have been a spate of unusually high power bills. One of my friends had a bill that tripled. When she called customer service, she was told that 'maybe she had done some welding'.

As one does. My bill was also higher than usual, so I emailed KPLC's PR and communications people, and they said that bills were not all based on meter readings, but, for practical reasons, often on estimates.

That makes sense, but I still wonder, on what basis does KPLC make estimates? Surely you would take an average of, say, the past six months or so rather than crank it up to ridiculous amounts, no? I asked KPLC, but no answer yet.

Anyways. The following month, my bill for my house was lower than usual, so moving on, I thought. Except not, I found that I received an electricity bill of Sh120,000 for the office, a building for which we've never had a power bill of more than Sh5,000. So this must have been for all my secret factories in the little back garden.

Oh wait. I don't have factories.Once I recovered from the shock, I called KPLC: 'That's a lot of money', customer service lady said. No kidding, sister! After looking at my previous bills, she tells me to take the meter reading and send someone to Stima Plaza.

It turns out that my bill was Sh3,035. (And in the end, this incident was much easier to resolve than the sudden six-figure bill that Nairobi Water sent me after I faithfully paid my water bills for three years. Estimates, you know. It took me a year and many, many water trucks to get reconnected).

But things shouldn't be too easy, or you get soft. The next bill from KPLC was Sh117,000. Again, we called. We were given a reference number (and customer service person said to pay Sh3,000, just to be safe).

Because all this was nonsense, I wrote a blog post, stuck it on Twitter, and told KPLC about it. After a few retweets, KPLC responded. I sent them a message with, as requested, the account number and my phone number, and then .... nothing. My bill was now Sh114,000. I tweeted again, and emailed, and we'd even sent someone to Stima Plaza. The last time I checked, my bill was still Sh114,000.

Here's the thing: anyone with half a brain would have checked the amount, given my past consumption. Any half-baked IT system would instantly have flagged this for review. It can also be fixed over the phone. And since this is clearly not my mistake, why do I have to do all the running around to fix it? Again?

When customer service is lousy, you go somewhere else. Except with KPLC, you can't. So they get away with high tariffs combined with unreliable service, fobbing off inflation/exchange rate/fuel increase adjustment to their clients, a kafkaesk bureaucracy, inconsistent procedures, imaginary bills, lack of follow through. Right on, Vision 2030, Konza Tech City - KPLC can't keep the lights on in the capital city. Especially not when it rains.

From KPLC's Twitter feed (You have to look for @Kenyapower, though - rebranding and visions and stuff, remember), 'Hope you are enjoying your afternoon. We welcome your queries, concerns and feedback on our products and services.' Don't. Even.

PS: Yes, I know, urban middle class problems.

PPS: Yes, I know, solar panels. But I'm clearly not middle class enough to have the spare cash to pay for those upfront.

PPPS: Yes, I know, prepaid metres. Except the good people on Twitter tell me that their money also gets sucked out in mysterious ways that do not seem to relate to their consumption.

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