Since the National Irrigation Board (NIB) took over operations at the multibillion-shilling Galana-Kulalu after falling out with the contractor, it says production cost has gone down significantly, with the blame now shifting to Green Arava, which is accused of inflating expenses.
The Agriculture ministry is using this revelation as a basis to argue that the controversial irrigation scheme is still viable and that it can play a key role in bridging the perennial food shortages.
Agriculture Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri for the first time admitted publicly that the project had been marred with corruption.
He blamed some people he did not name for inflating the costs. He said investigations were ongoing and the culprits would be brought to book.
“There is a question of mismanagement on this project that borders on corruption,” he said.
Already, a team from the Presidential Delivery Unit and Attorney General’s office have visited the scheme in the wake of the new revelations.
Mr Kiunjuri says Green Arava had been spending Sh67,000 per acre on other expenses that are related to farming with Sh90,000 on fuel component alone.
“Since NIB took over in the current season, the cost of production has come down to a maximum of Sh45,000 per acre, having more than halved what the contractor has been spending,” he said.
“We are going to lower the cost of production from the figures that the contractor has been giving us and this will make Galana a viable project.”
Another instance of inflation, says the CS, emerged from the Sh700 million bill that the contractor was demanding before unclogging the water intake that runoff had blocked.
Mr Kiunjuri said the NIB only used Sh30 million to do the same work.
The new development complicates the matter for the Israeli firm, with the government now contemplating terminating their contract.
Mr Kiunjuri said they were meant to meet with the contractor this week to make the final decision on whether they would be allowed to continue with the remaining part of the 10,000 model farm.
“We will be coming up with a decision this week on whether to allow the contractor to continue with the work or not,” he said.
The contract was for a duration of 30 calendar months and was set for completion in March 2016.
The contractor was expected to complete the construction and installation of irrigation infrastructure within 18 months and test the system during a defects liability period of 12 months.
The contract was later extended twice and was expected to be completed by January 20 but the works are still not complete, with the completion estimated to be at 85 per cent.
The ministry said it had asked the President to take the risk and open the Galana project.
The ministry says the potential of the project was now becoming evident.
The NIB is projecting to harvest 32 bags of maize from an acre of the crop that it is currently in the field.
The current crop is expected to be harvested in the next two months.
Slightly more than 1,000 acres are currently under crop.
The irrigation agency says it is planning to put 10,000 acres of land under the crop cover by February next year as it seeks to expand the project into large-scale.
The government has so far spent Sh5.9 billion on the project, money that mainly went to laying the infrastructure and planting in the previous seasons.
The contractor has been out of site for some time following a payment dispute between the Israeli firm and the NIB.
The contractor says the agency owes them Sh1 billion but the board claims it only owes Green Arava Sh200 million.
Critics have branded the Galana project a white elephant project.