NAIROBI, August 28- Public perception of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) has been deteriorating every year. What with power supply being disconnected just when you are watching your favorite soap or just when you are anxiously waiting for that football match!
And to add salt to injury, the company recently increased retail tariffs by 24 percent which, when combined with the fuel costs, went up by more than 50 percent.
Clearly, KPLC’s image needs to be redeemed, and fast.
These are among the tough issues that the newly appointed Managing Director Eng Joseph Njoroge has to deal with after he took the reins of power at the company in June.
Capital Business had an up-close and candid talk with the soft-spoken MD and sought to find out what tricks he has up his sleeves to, among other things, change the negative perception about the utility firm.
Njoroge has worked at KPLC since 1980, where he has risen through the ranks. Prior to his appointment as MD, he was a Chief Manager in charge of Nairobi region.
Q. The tariff issue has once again put the company on a collision course with the public as it’s coming at a time when they are still grappling with high food and fuel costs and high inflation. Is the increase justified?
A. I want to ask Kenyans to go on a soul-searching exercise. I am aware that they are unhappy with the current tariff especially when the economy is biting from all corners.
We have not had a tariff enhancement in the last nine years. I want to ask them to quantify the gains they get from using electricity.
If you list all the benefits that you get from electricity you’ll appreciate that it may just be a perception and it is not a reality that electricity is expensive.
KPLC will continue to communicate that information. It’s the only way we can improve our country, it’s the only way we can alleviate poverty by creating several economic activities and to ensure that our customers get maximum value from the usage of electricity.
Q. There are people who think that KPLC should be fully privatized so as to improve its service delivery. What’s your take on that?
A. Organisations depend on the drivers of those firms. It does not matter whether we are private, quasi private or a public company. As long as we are committed to giving a good service to our customers will be happy with us.
Q. Electricity penetration rate in Kenya is just 20 percent. Do you have programs in place to raise this level?
A. In order to make KPLC compliant to society needs, we have in the recent past enhanced our connectivity rate.
Two years ago, we were connecting about 60, 000 customers per year, but that number has gone up to 120, 000. In 2008, we were able to raise that number to 140, 000 and we plan to connect the same number of customers by the end of this financial year.
The government has charged us with a target of one million customers for the next five years and we want to live up to those expectations.
Q. How do you think you’ll achieve this?
A. It calls for a change in the way we do business. We are trying to partner with various banks so that they can be advancing our customers the connection money, which has been one of the main challenges.
Equity bank and Cooperative Bank have expressed a lot of interest and once we come up with a working arrangement, I’m sure that many banks will join in.
KPLC has also tried to come up with innovative products such as ‘Umeme Pamoja’ where our customers come up in groups and we subsidise them. On average we sponsor almost 50 percent of those projects because we take cognizance of customers who would join in and benefit from that infrastructure. We recoup our costs later and this has benefited very many customers.
Q. What plans do you have for KPLC?
A. The plans that I have is to try and not just meet and surpass the expectations of our very critical stakeholders including the customers, employees and shareholders.
Our employees are the drivers of the business; they control all our assets and convert those assets to business.
Q. What immediate challenges is KPLC facing and how are you going to address them?
A. Our infrastructure is not up to date particularly in the high density areas; we have many customers getting supply interruptions and this is something that we want to improve.
There is a more than Sh12 billion venture called the “Energy Sector Recovery Project’ which is on going. We have completed 30 percent of the project and we are moving fast to ensure that the rest is done by 2010.
Q. You are on record saying that the theft of electricity equipment is to blame for the poor service delivery. How has vandalism affected your operations?
A. I like to refer to vandalism as economic sabotage. Since 2004 our direct losses of replacement costs for items mainly conductors and transformers is about Sh1 billion.
We see the figure rising to Sh1.5 billion by the end of this year because the trend has been increasing at an alarming rate.
This loss to KPLC does not include the lost opportunities to the rest of the country occasioned by disruption of economic and social activities when electricity supply is interrupted.
Q. What solutions have you put in place to mitigate against this problem?
A. One of the solutions is to make it hard for the vandals to access the equipment by raising it high up, securing that equipment so that it’s difficult to bring it down. But, we think that community policing is the most effective way of fighting the vice.
Q. You have launched various campaigns to fight vandalism. Have they paid off?
A: We have had good results from our campaign dubbed “Mulika Mwizi”. For example, we have partnered with football players and sponsored the league in Kiambu areas which had the highest cases of theft. This has paid off because they have helped to police the equipment. We plan to engage the community in other areas as well.
Q. You are a beneficiary of a KPLC scholarship program. Do you have similar programs in place that other people can benefit from?
A. We have many programs in place to give back to the community. We set aside one percent of our after tax profits towards Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.
Q. Finally, what would like to be remembered for as KPLC MD?
A. I would want to be remembered as a person who made a positive difference at KPLC as an entity which will serve the society and surpass their expectations.