The Judiciary is on the spot after a chief executive of a State agency attended the annual gathering of magistrates despite facing a civil suit in the courts.
Dr Ken Tarus, the Kenya Power (KP) Managing Director, who is facing a civil suit related to complaints about exaggerated electricity bills, attended the annual Magistrates’ Colloquium at the Great Rift Valley Lodge, Naivasha on Friday.
Prior to his visit, Dr Tarus’ advance party had stormed the lodge on Thursday and treated the judicial officers to a cocktail party whose bills the agency picked up.
The MD, alongside General Manager and Company Secretary Beatrice Meso, flew in on Friday at 2pm and addressed the gathering for three hours.
“Yes, we were treated to a Kenya Power cocktail yesterday,” a senior magistrate who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, told the Sunday Nation on Friday evening.
While independent analysts later argued there is nothing wrong with Kenya Power sponsoring a cocktail party for the judicial officers, both the Judiciary and KP gave a conflicting account on the issue.
While Justice Otieno Odek, who is the Director of Judiciary Training Institute (JTI), rejected claims that the company had sponsored a cocktail, Kenya Power confirmed having bought the drinks and snacks as part of corporate social responsibility.
It later emerged that in actual fact, it is the company’s leadership that had reached out to the leadership of the JTI to have a session with the magistrates as part of its transmitters anti-vandalism outreach mission.
“It is true that we hosted Dr Tarus at the colloquium. It was a formal invitation,” Prof Odek told the Sunday Nation, adding that the meeting had discussed energy offenses, the Energy Bill and the law.
“It was about the role of KP and its liabilities in terms of outages and electrocution. There is nothing like KP hosting magistrates for a cocktail. It is not true.”
Last night, Dr Tarus confirmed the visit, saying it discussed various crimes affecting business and the company’s legal entitlements.
“Kenya Power recognises several factors likely to impact negatively on its operations including vandalism, illegal connections, encroachment on electricity line way leaves and other crimes against power assets. To address these threats, several strategic action plans have been developed including protecting and securing infrastructure and assets, campaigns to counter power theft and formation of long-term relationships with stakeholders,” said Dr Tarus.
“The objective of the engagement with magistrates was to sensitise the judicial officers on the impact of vandalism and other offenses in the Energy Act. The Judicial Training Institute partners with local government, non-governmental bodies and corporate organisations to deliver courses on various thematic areas to judicial officers and Judiciary staff,” he went on.
Earlier, KP communication manager Johnstone ole Turana had also confirmed that Dr Tarus had visited the magistrates twice in as many weeks after the company made a request to the Judiciary over the runway state of transmitter vandalism.
“It’s true that we sponsored the cocktail. And this is an open thing and I don’t think it is a big deal. We have not been sued by anybody. In fact it is KP that has many cases with the individuals,” said Mr Turana.
Mr Turana said offences committed against KP, especially the theft of transmitters, has affected its Energy Management Plans and frustrated efforts to build and maintain a robust power distribution network.
The latest development comes against the backdrop of ongoing investigations into corruption at the company by both the police and Parliament.
A suit filed by lawyer Apollo Mboya over inflated electricity bills is currently pending at the High Court, and questions would be raised if it was appropriate for the Judiciary to accede to the request to have Dr Tarus address the magistrates.
In the suit, Mr Mboya accused the company of abusing its monopoly and dominance and wants a declaration issued that KP has made false or misleading representation with respect to electricity tariffs and bills to its customers.
“The economic crime KP has committed to Kenyans by inflating their electricity bills is the worst. They are stealing from their customers and there can never be better definition of an economic saboteur,” Mboya told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
He is also seeking a declaration that the monopoly enjoyed by Kenya Power is unconstitutional, praying to the court to issue a permanent injunction barring the company from billing or recovering Sh10.1 billion from its customers on alleged backdated bills.
In November 2017, KP migrated to a new Integrated Customer Management System, and Dr Tarus admits in a letter to the Competition Authority that errors had been noted in the conversion to the new system and that some bills which had been sent out reflected an amount due to excess of what should have been charged.
The Company is also under investigation over the Last Mile Electricity connectivity project while the Public Investments Committee of the National Assembly has asked the Auditor-General to conduct a special audit of the system used by Kenya Power to generate tokens for prepaid electricity consumers after reports emerged that companies could be minting millions off the system at the expense of Kenyans.