There are many positive aspects about Kenya. KPLC – Kenya Power and Lighting Company – is not one of them!
I am writing this blog post from my Sony Ericsson X10, whose batteries are about to die. Since morning, the power has been gone, not just in my building, but in the entire area! And this is even in the immediate vicinity of State House – the Presidential residence!
The reliability of the power supply is a key element in the competitiveness of any country, and on that one, Kenya doesn’t score well! Alongside security and traffic jams, it is one of the top 3 challenges to investment and economic growth.
Unfortunately, KPLC is politicized, corrupt, and utterly inefficient. Despite having been partly privatized, it is still run like a parastatal, where political patronage overshadows competence, ability or achievements!
To make matters worse, there’s nothing unique about today’s incident. Although less frequent than a couple of years ago, such power cuts are still a regularly reoccurring event. No wonder KPLC is nicknamed Kenya Paraffin Lamps and Candles!
Imagine if the power went down for an entire day in the area around Buckingham Palace in London, around the Reichstag in Berlin, or around the White House in Washington DC! It would certainly be headline material, with demands for heads rolling in the power company responsible for the scandal. Top executives would almost certainly be sacked, and somebody might even get prosecuted for criminal negligence.
There is hope in the longer term, though. The tendancy in Kenya is towards privatization, and despite some resistance from Minister of Energy, Kiraitu Murungi, it is probably only a matter of time before KPLC is fully privatized. The history of privatizations in Kenya is generally one of successes, notably with companies like Kenya Airways and Telkom Kenya (sold to Orange) having undergone radical metamorphosis from bloated parastatals to aggressive, competitive service providers.
With the passing of the new constitution, there also seems to be an increased appetite for reforms in Kenya. Although corruption, nepotism and impunity are still prevalent features of the Kenyan society, they are becoming increasingly difficult to practise under the regime of more transparency and freedom of press, brought in under President Mwai Kibaki.
With the increased appetite for reforms, reinforced by the passing of the new constitution, let us hope for public outcries in the future against under-performing parastatals like KPLC. One day soon, even the top management there will hopefully owe the survival of their careers to performance, customer satisfaction and perceived excellence. The day we see a sacked KPLC director in court, facing charges of criminal negligence, will mark another big step forward for Kenya!