Not every Kenyan is buying the expensive electricity tokens from Kenya Power. Some rogue Kenya Power employees have established a pre-paid token selling syndicate through which some consumers secure tokens more than ten times their value. 

A Nation investigation has unearthed the fresh token scandal at the cash-strapped utility firm that has raised concerns that Kenya Power could be losing more millions every week to an intricate web that has seen buyers get more than their rightful share of power tokens.

The Nation established that staff at the electricity distributor have manipulated the system to generate payment codes for illegal buyers who get way higher units than usual.

For instance, the Nation spent Sh2,500 to buy prepaid tokens from Kenya Power using the 888880 online payment code and received 138.28 units.

On the same day, another Sh2,500 was spent on buying tokens, only this time the Nation dealt directly with a staff who works at the IT department.

Before payment of Sh2,500 was done, a code was sent, the units read 20.53 before the code was entered on the meter.

Immediately the units increased to 1234.47, meaning for Sh2,500, we got 1213.94 units. The interesting part about the units obtained illegally is that the more you use power, the more the units accumulate.

Four days after loading the fraudulent tokens, they had risen to 1244. 

The Nation also found out that the staff can also manipulate the new prepaid meters that start with the digits 37.

Illegitimate tokens

When reached for comment, Kenya Power acknowledged it was aware that tokens were being irregularly issued to consumers.

However, according to the firm, the people behind the illegal trade were members of the public and not their staff.

“We are aware that some unscrupulous members of the public have approached unsuspecting electricity consumers purporting to sell discounted illegitimate tokens. We are carrying out investigations into this issue with the intention to institute criminal proceedings against anyone found culpable of facilitating this illegal activity,” Kenya Power said.

It is not clear how widespread the scandal is but sources said the syndicate has been going on for years, and is most rampant with big power consumers, who have found a way to bypass the system and not pay a fair share of their power bills.

This is not the first time the utility firm has been on the spot over scandalous power tokens.

Between January 2018 and February 2019, the company lost Sh35 million in power tokens irregularly sold to customers.

In the brief to the Energy Committee at the Senate in 2019, the national power supplier revealed shocking details of how thousands of Kenyans were duped into purchasing the illegal tokens. 

According to the report, the fraudulent scheme was executed by a well-coordinated team led by 13 masterminds, at the time working at the power distributor.

The report further revealed that over 2500 Kenyans bought tokens worth Sh35, 280, 567 over the period of the scam.

Manipulating the system

The irregularly generated tokens were found to have been sent to customers through personal lines, which are unofficial channels.

Put to task by the committee, Kenya Power said it had instituted control measures, including engaging an independent ICT auditor to audit all systems and enhancing its billing system to ensure segregation of responsibilities and structured mechanism of approvals.

A team from the Serious Crime Unit investigated the Kenya Power billing system and uncovered a cartel that had been manipulating the system to steal from unsuspecting Kenyans.

The cartel included senior and junior Kenya Power staff, brokers and some customers.

The investigations started in April 2019, following a public outcry of hiked bills, with Kenyans taking to social media to share their exaggerated statements under the hashtag #SwitchOffKPLC.

“Following several complaints lodged with DCI, thorough audit of the billing systems in operation at KPLC was sanctioned by DCI,” DCI said at the time.

The investigation involved teams from Kenya Power, cyber forensic experts and the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the DCI Headquarters.

Investigators found out the fraud involved Kenya Power ICT employees granting unauthorised access and assigning special roles to outsiders.

The cartels would inflate power bills or strike a deal with a client to reduce their bill for kickbacks.

Electricity theft and fraud

A general audit by Kenya Power indicated that Sh65 million was lost in the transactions done in 2018 alone.

In the wake of the scandals, the company established a special response team, the Field Enforcement Unit (FEU). Through the efforts of the FEU and other security agencies, the company arrested 630 people.

It also sacked more than 100 employees between July 2019 and August 2020 for abetting various illegal activities related to electricity theft and fraud.

The investigators said rogue Kenya Power staff generated pre-paid tokens for sale by altering genuine M-PESA reference numbers with additional digits.

The firm’s ICT systems have been blamed for its woes over the years since they are not configured accordingly to monitor revenue.

At some point, there were even fears that the company’s official pay bill number had been infiltrated by staff, and the money from the account was being paid to two different accounts — one owned by Kenya Power and the other to an unknown account. Investigations on this front went cold.

In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a task force to look into the rot in the country’s power purchase agreements. He hoped the team would unravel the mystery surrounding the exorbitant cost of electricity.

In a move to save the company, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i who headed a special cabinet team to reform the power distributor has ordered a forensic audit to uncover illegal financial dealings.

The electricity distributor has also been barred from finalising power purchase deals that are still being negotiated or renewing expiring contracts with the producers in the wake of a rise in power bills that hit a 38-month high in August.

By Nation Africa

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