A national police housing crisis is looming as officers, who have been ordered to vacate government-funded houses but have refused to move, may now have to live without electricity and water unless they obey the presidential directive.
This follows the expiry of a February 1 deadline to vacate police quarters rented for them by the National Police Service (NPS).
Police officers in different parts of the country are currently living in darkness after the NPS stopped paying for their electricity from this month.
On Wednesday, police officers living at the Central Police Station in Nairobi were issued with a notice to vacate their houses by February 20.
The terse notice, signed by Mr Simon Kerich, the OCS, stated that the officers must comply with the given date as “there will be no reminder over the same”.
NPS was to give all officers “reasonable” allowances to enable them secure decent and affordable accommodation in their areas of operation.
However, most of the officers still living in police lines have cited severe housing shortage in some parts of the country, and their inability to service the high rents charged by landlords.
Their situation was worsened after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) slashed allowances by close to half.
Following the SRC review, a sergeant in Nairobi gets Sh9,800 house allowance and Sh4,000 commuter allowance.
Sergeants in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nyeri, Eldoret, Kisii, Kitale, Kakamega and Malindi get Sh7,300 house allowance. Those in other regions will get Sh5,500. Most of the officers who spoke to the Nation vowed to stay put in their current residences due to lack of affordable alternative shelter.
In Nyeri Town, one-bedroom houses are going for between Sh7,000 and Sh15,000 based on location and size.
Going by allowances offered, the officers will have to live in single rooms or bedsitters whose monthly rent ranges from Sh4,000 to Sh6,500.
“Once subjected to tax, the so-called house allowance is not even enough to get me decent housing. I will have to live in a single room or bedsitter with my entire family,” an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Nation.
In Othaya, Kieni and Mukurweini, police officers said they cannot find rental houses at all.
“The sheds we live in are no different from the houses out there, so it makes no difference to leave,” an officer at Mweiga Police Station said.
In Embu Town, the cheapest self-contained one bed-roomed house goes for between Sh8,000 and Sh12,000.
Police officers in Murang’a County also face similar challenges where a decent one-bedroom house goes for as much as Sh10,000.
In Kakamega Town, the 155 officers who have opted to pay rent complained that their plans to find affordable accommodation had been jolted by shortage of houses. They said that landlords in Kakamega have taken advantage of the situation to increase rent from Sh10,000 to Sh15,000 for a two-bedroom house.
The deadline to vacate has put hundreds of police officers at risk of going without water and electricity after NPS stopped paying for them.
Designs for police lines usually group all the houses under a single account and meter for both water and power, whose bills are paid by respective divisional headquarters. Since NPS is no longer budgeting for police line bills, it means Kenya Power and water companies will inevitably cut supply to the quarters.
In Nyeri Town, Kenya Power cut off supply to the police lines more than a week ago and Nyeri Water and Sewerage Company (Nyewasco) is considering similar action. Per the new housing plan, police officers must now cater for their water and electricity bills.
The notice to vacate the police lines was issued in December last year after the officers received their first house allowance.
“We are willing to pay own bills but the problem is that they have not separated the meters and now the main supply has been cut off. We cannot find alternative houses out there. Where are we supposed to live when the same thing happens with water?” an officer attached to the station posed.
Nyewasco managing director Peter Gichaaga said that NPS has already notified the company that it will stop payments under the police lines account.
The company is expected to terminate supply to other stations including the residential quarters at the National Police Service College Main Campus in Kiganjo.
According to the Nyewasco MD, Nyeri Central Police Station requires at least Sh1 million for metering while the Kenya Police College, Kiganjo will require at about Sh4 million.
Kenya Power is reportedly also offering a similar deal but it remains unclear who will foot the bill. In Kakamega, a contractor is asking for Sh4.2 million to carry out repairs, including wiring and installation of Kenya Power meters in police houses.
The quotation for the job has left police officers in shock. The officers have now resorted to buying solar panels as an alternative power supply to their homes.
Western region police boss, Mr Leonard Omolo, said he met the contractor who gave him the quotation.
“The amount is perplexing. We have asked the officers to approach individual electricians registered and certified by Kenya Power to do the job at an affordable cost to enable them restore power to the houses,” said Mr Omolo.
The officers will be required to pay an additional Sh2,000 to have water restored to the houses. Officers in Mombasa and Kwale, who spoke to the Nation, revealed that rumours of looming transfers have halted their plans to move from their quarters.
This is despite the disconnection of power and water supply in a move to ensure they vacate.
“Those who have moved from the camps are officers who are new in the service. Some of them do not even have families, but a majority of us with families have stayed put despite the disconnections which were done last week,” said a police officer from Kwale.
Another police officer in Mombasa said they are yet to move from the police lines as houses they intend to vacate to are under renovations.
In Kilifi, Malindi OCPD Matawa Muchangi, said police officers are still taking their time to seek rental houses.
“Some of them have already moved out but others are still searching for affordable rental houses,” he said adding, “Most of them suggest they need to live close to each other for security and emergency purposes.”
Officers attached to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) have relocated to new rental homes in Malindi Town.
Magarini OCPD Gerald Barasa said the officers have already adjusted to ‘outside life’. In Taita Taveta, acting county police commander Joseph Chesire said all officers who want to remain in quarters will have to pay their own bills.
An officer at Voi police station said that they have been in darkness since electricity was cut off. He said they were told to pay Sh700,000 by Kenya Power to get electricity connection back.
In the North Rift, many officers who spoke to the Nation expressed disappointment that their allowances have been slashed.
Those in Eldoret claimed that they only received Sh7,500 as house allowance compared to the Sh13,000 announced earlier.
“We’ve not been given any explanation for this reduction. We were just given a circular. We can even end up getting less as they have added a lot of levies including an increase in NHIF,” said a disgruntled officer.
Graduate officers have also complained that they were not considered for a house allowance increase despite earlier promises.
“We are being told to look for decent houses near our work stations. Getting such houses is not easy as they are expensive,” said an officer.
The situation is no different in West Pokot county with officers lamenting that the house allowance given is very little.
In Trans Nzoia County, the worst hit are officers with large families. “This programme was rushed. We could have just stuck with the old system as we implement the new one gradually. Every region has different housing standards and some are not safe for officers,” said an officer.
But the county police commandant Yusuf Gitonga called on the officers to embrace the new system.
Reports by Nicholas Komu, Benson Amadala, Ahmed Mohamed, Charles Lwanga, Lucy Mkanyika, Wycliffe Kipsang, Oscar Kakai and Gerald Bwisa