Kimunya at the centre of a row over a Sh55bn airport tender
Posted Saturday, August 11 2012 at 23:30
- New airport plan in jeopardy as minister defies Attorney-General and Cabinet committee to cancel tender award to Chinese company that won bid to build new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta Airport
- Minister instructed KAA board to reverse decision to award the Sh55 billion airport construction project to Chinese company and start the process afresh. The Chinese firm has appealed against cancellation of the tender
Transport minister Amos Kimunya is at the centre of a new controversy involving the construction of a new airport terminal in Nairobi at an estimated cost of Sh55 billion.
The proposed facility, to be built on land next to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is one of Vision 2030 flagship projects — second in size only to Lamu Port. It is designed to decongest JKIA and affirm Nairobi’s position as the leading aviation hub in the eastern Africa region.
The proposed airport, known in government circles as the Greenfield Project, will have a state-of-the-art terminal and a new runway. It is not part of the ongoing expansion of JKIA.
Intrigues about the project have sucked in top officials in the Office of the President, the Prime Minister’s office and the Cabinet.
The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), which falls in Mr Kimunya’s docket, is the implementing agency and its board and management have been mandated to identify a competent contractor to deliver the project.
It is Mr Kimunya’s role in the cancellation of a tender award to Chinese company Anhui Construction Engineering Group that has thrust the minister into the centre of the current controversy.
According to confidential documents seen by the Sunday Nation, Mr Kimunya had in January, through Permanent Secretary Dr Cyrus Njiru, instructed the KAA board to cancel the tender in controversial circumstances and restart the process afresh.
The Chinese firm has gone to the Public Procurement Oversight Authority seeking a review of the termination. The company argues that the purported cancellation is in breach of the law and the Transport minister and PS and KAA should be restrained.
On Friday, the KAA board was holding a crisis meeting most of the day as the push and pull in government circles over the project continues.
But even as Mr Kimunya pushed for cancellation, KAA received communication from the acting Head of Public Service, Mr Francis Kimemia, directing the corporation to provide the Office of the President with a ground-breaking schedule for the project, expected to be done by the end of November.
Major infrastructure projects have been high on President Kibaki’s agenda and his handlers appear keen that the Head of State signs off the project before his exit from office. Speaking during the Kenya Airways Rights Issue ceremony on March 20, 2012, President Kibaki said: “I would like to see the expansion project move faster. Any delays are costly to the country. I, therefore, challenge Kenya Airports Authority to hasten the expansion of our airports.”
Projects of Greenfield’s magnitude routinely attract big political and financial lobbying locally and internationally. The Sunday Nation has been told that people with influence in government are supporting different companies interested in the project, sparking a vicious battle for the ultimate prize.
Currently, JKIA faces stiff competition from Ethiopia, Rwanda and South Africa in modernising air transport.
Addis Ababa is in the process of constructing a second major airport outside the capital while Kigali plans to build a $700 million (Sh56 billion) airport in the hope of establishing an alternative aviation hub in the region.
In an interview on Friday, Mr Kimunya said the procurement process was flawed and vowed to ensure the award to the Chinese firm is reversed.
“The process has to be restarted. It doesn’t matter to me who will break ground as long as we get it right,” Mr Kimunya said.
He added unequivocally: “Kama ni mbaya ni mbaya. Let’s move on to what will deliver.”
At first, Mr Kimunya was reluctant to comment on the project because it was under consideration in the Cabinet but he changed his mind and responded to a series of questions in a telephone interview lasting 31 minutes.