CAPTION: How foreign companies are using Kenya’s 3rd-world status to enrich themselves – Orb Energy Kenya Ltd.
Orb Energy is a renewable energy company with its parent company located in Bangalore, India. Orb has two main lines of business:
1. Solar Lighting products (portable lamps, systems that can power basic household appliances etc).
2. Solar Water Heaters for domestic and commercial use.
Orb Energy setup its Kenya offices in 2013 and started off positively like any other foreign setup. Gradually the company grew, got more staff, setup a few offices around the country, hired more staff and started setting a solid footprint in the Kenyan renewable energy circle. In an endeavour to widen their market reach, Orb setup a number of partnerships with MFIs. The partnerships with these MFIs were started to ensure their off grid customers would get financing and have access to Orb products. This seemed very noble since the vast majority of the potential customers were rural and peri-urban households that may have needed a slight financial boost to be able to procure the solar products.
The Long Con
Fast forward to 2016-17 when Orb Energy seemed to be at its peak since setting up base in Kenya. After reaching out to a number of investors, Orb was able to get several donors willing to inject a lot of money (hundreds of thousands of US Dollars) into its Kenya operations. These donations and grants are normally made to organizations set up third-world to help them boost their operations.
Renewable energy companies are considered as social enterprises hence donors are very willing to inject money into such organizations; philanthropy you may call it. This was going to work perfectly for what Orb Energy had in mind. They appeared to have the larger picture of “lighting up” Kenyan households that were off-grid but far from it.
All donors or well-wishers that give grants have a stipulated set of steps that the receiver has to comply with before the money is released to them. This was no different from what was laid before Orb Energy and here is where the genius of the ‘long con’ kicks in.
When Orb Energy started off they solely pushed their lighting products which were mostly for domestic use in rural areas. This was in stark contrast with their operations in their global headquarters and factories in India. In India, Orb Energy was only moving bigger solar products since the smaller products markets were very saturated.
Curiously enough, this was the same situation in Kenya. Orb Energy Kenya management, led by the dictatorial Dutch-Iranian VP, Ramin Nadimi, however did not seem to care.
Simple. The Kenyan market was to serve as a dumping ground for the dead stock that wasn’t moving in India. This however didn’t seem to be a problem since there was a ready market and the products were not faulty, just out-of-date.
The con game intricacies came in when Orb Energy management that sits in India noticed that their products in Kenya had to be sold with very minimal margins since the market was very competitive. There were already several companies in Kenya that had superior products and had much fairer prices.
They had to get a way to divert from the smaller lighting products to water heaters which have a bigger margin. This was also perfect for them since there were regulations effected by the ERC that buildings were to install solar water heaters by end of 2017.
Step in the investors and donors.
In all instances, grants given to renewable energy companies were for ensuring the countrywide distribution of the smaller lighting products. The same products that Orb Energy wasn’t making money from.
To get the investors’/donors’ money Orb had to achieve a number of milestones. One of these milestones was the opening of more countrywide offices and then get the grants once they had these up and running. Orb Energy did this very diligently and opened about 12 offices.
The con game however was evident because almost half of these offices weren’t ever operational. Some weren’t even furnished. Orb simply paid rent and the necessary security deposits and submitted the paperwork to the donors; after all that is all they needed to see as evidence. After receiving the “evidence”, the investors wired the money to Orb Kenya for their “work”. Orb Kenya in turn almost always immediately wired the money to Orb India. India is where the president of the company sits. The transfer of the funds was made to pay for the dead stock that was shipped to Kenya. As stated earlier, a lot of the
shipments to Kenya were done without consulting the Orb Kenya team. They simply wanted to get rid of the stock that was outdated in the Indian market and was lying wastefully in storage.
Another facet of the investors funding was the hiring of new staff periodically to expand operations. This never happened. Orb Kenya duped the investors by making existing employees seem like new staff by simply changing their designations. Actually, at the order of the President of Orb, Orb Kenya cut staff by almost half. It was very clear to all that the money from investors was to be diverted to “other” uses.
The situation got so stringent and dire that in several months of late 2017, salaries we’re delayed without any forewarning to the staff. Investors chipped in millions of Kenya shillings but Orb management had other ideas. Money would be wired by the investors, millions of shillings at a time, but there would be sent straight to India.
Come 2018 and the con game got worse.
Orb Kenya is now bringing in managers from India to run Kenya operations. This is being done because some of the current managers are against this ploy of diverting the money to other uses not related with the Kenyan market and Kenya operations.
The Kenyan managers that are left are afraid to speak up in fear of losing their jobs or have actual records proving these tricks being carried out by the President Mr. Damian Miller (an American) who sits in the India office) and VP- Africa Mr. Ramin Nadimi (Dutch-Iranian) who runs the scheme here in Kenya.
The Orb Kenya “management team” are simply figureheads. All business moves and decisions are made in India and forcefully enacted in Kenya. You resist or you question, you leave!
Year in, year out we hear of such cases which normally end up with companies closing down due to “low business”.
By this time they already have the investor’s money in bank and are simply conniving. We do hope that soon enough the government sets up measures to quell such companies and nip them at the bud.
At the end of the day, it’s the Kenyan workforce that bears the brunt of this kind of impunity. These types of companies set up shop, give false hopes to Kenyans, the company shareholders and directors make money off deceit and cunningness, close up and leave the working Kenyan in dire straits.
If you reach out to the VP and Kenya Operations Manager they will deny these accusations. The Operations Manager should be able to confirm the opening of “ghost offices” and the forceful importation of goods not required in the market but simply being gotten rid of from the India warehouses and stores.
If need be I can share some falsified documents that were submitted to donors for them to be paid out massive amounts of money for fictitious undertakings that were generously reimbursed by donors.
They scammed world renowned donors like Shell Foundation (where Miller and Nadimi were employees before they left to start Orb Energy) and Acumen as well.
Company website: http://ke.orbenergy.com
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