How 900 transformers supplied to Kenya Power turned out faulty

About 900 transformers supplied to Kenya Power in eight years turned out faulty in the Coast region alone, according to a former manager at the utility company.

The company’s former Coast regional manager, Hezekiah Mwalwala, told a Nairobi court Tuesday that the defects in the 897 transformers supplied between 2010 and 2018 could not be blamed solely on the supplier or the manufacturer.

Mr Mwalwala was testifying in a case where former Kenya Power chief executive officer Ben Chumo and 14 other persons have been charged in connection with the procurement of faulty transformers worth Sh408.5 million.

The witness said some of the transformers turned faulty because of how they were handled while being transported while others were destroyed by trees or failed because of manufacturing or system defects or vandalism.

He said vandalism of the equipment was the main reason for faulty transformers in his region.

The utility company has attributed power outages in the country to faulty transformers as vandals go for magnesium oxide — a powdery substance contained in the transformer fuseswhich has hallucinatory effects when inhaled — oil, copper windings and fuses.

Mr Mwalwala said the number of faulty transformers is captured in a failure database, which the company keeps. 

“Some fail because of the way they are handled while being ferried from Nairobi to the Coast,” he said.

But he could not state the number of transformers that failed while being transported.

The witness said the report was generated by the operations and maintenance department. He also said the procurement was done by the central stores in Nairobi and that he played no role in the process. 

Those facing charges include former Kenya Power Managing Director Ken Tarus, Beatrice Meso (former company secretary), K.P. Mungai, Joshua Mutua, Abubakar Swaleh, Samuel Ndirangu, Stanley Mutwiri, Benson Muriithi, Peter Mwicigi and John Ombui.

Also charged are directors of Muwa trading company James Mungai, Grace Mungai and John Mungai. Muwa allegedly supplied the electricity distributor with 501 transformers on May 22, 2015, but 327 failed on installation and had to be repaired.

They have denied charges of conspiracy to commit an offence, aiding the commission of a felony, wilful failure to comply with procurement laws, conspiracy to defeat justice and fraudulent acquisition of public property.

It is alleged that on diverse dates between August 3, 2012, and June 12, the accused committed economic crimes by fraudulently procuring transformers worth over Sh408.5 million. 

The prosecution accuses the former senior officials of Kenya Power of procuring defective transformers, leading to the loss of millions of shillings. 

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji ordered their arrest and prosecution in June 2020. 

The DPP alleged that the accused persons acted with the common intention of defrauding Kenya Power.

But the defence team has sought to discount the claims and show that there was no conspiracy as claimed.

It is alleged that some of the transformers failed the company’s own quality tests, were of poor build, were made of poor quality materials, and were leaking oil and losing too much power.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has meawhile taken over investigations into last week’s collapse of high voltage electricity transmission lines that caused a nationwide power outage.

The outage was initially blamed on vandalism by scrap metal dealers.

DCI boss George Kinoti said his officers had taken interest in the January 11 collapse of four steel pylons in Nairobi’s Imara Daima area, causing hours of a nationwide blackout, the third countrywide power blackout in four years. 

Manufacturers, commercial building owners, warehouses, farmers and small businesses such as salons and barbershops largely depend on electricity to operate.

An extended outage usually leads to losses and additional expenses from using generators.

Frequent blackouts due to supply shortfalls — and sometimes because of ageing distribution and transmission infrastructure — have forced most businesses and wealthy homes to have standby generators.

The latest data, however, suggests the frequency and longevity of blackouts has fallen in recent years.

For example, the average time customers were cut off power supply — technically referred to as Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) — dropped to 4.03 hours in the year ended June 2021 compared with 4.52 hours in the prior year. 

Nairobi Today

Author: Alex

Alex is a Kenyan blogger writing on technology, fraud, social media and politics at Nairobi Today.

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