Something doesn’t smell right in SGR deals

Sunday January 3 2016

A Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) locomotive engine is being off loaded at the Port of Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) locomotive engine is being off loaded at the Port of Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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On December 13, I wrote about the downright misuse and abuse and wanton wastage of public money in the compensation of persons whose land was acquired or allegedly acquired for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway.

The following day I received an angry phone call.

The caller sought to know why I was unfairly accusing the Kenya Railways Corporation of plundering public resources when nobody was complaining.

I was still thinking about that call when I opened my first email message of that morning.

The author told me that the compensation was over and done with and unless I wanted to join the gravy train he could not understand why I was opening up a closed chapter.

And then came the afternoon call. “What do you gain from writing about SGR in particular and tenders in general?” He did not want an answer.

To the two callers and author of the email and to you fellow Kenyans, I wish to state as follows: I was persistent and consistent throughout 2015 in exposing and expounding on the corruption and manipulation that has run rampant in public tendering and will not relent in 2016. It is that simple, and, here’s why.

SGR will remain a milch cow given the huge amounts of money involved in every stage and facet of construction.

Why, for example, is the Kenyan taxpayer going to fork out Sh153 billion for 120 kilometres of Phase 2A of the project where he paid Sh327 billion for the construction of 429 kilometres of Phase 1?

The argument that the costs have gone up because the terrain between Nairobi and Naivasha is a much more difficult one on which to construct bridges, begs the question “was not the terrain a factor or in existence when the contracts were signed?”

The word out here is simply that the cost of Kenya’s SGR, unlike Ethiopia’s and Tanzania’s, has been hugely inflated.

And, remember it is meant to snake its way all the way to the border with Uganda.

Indeed, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure under which SGR falls will remain on my radar for two important reasons.

First, the top echelon of the ministry comprising the Cabinet Secretary and the PSs in charge of transport, maritime and works all hail from one region.

I am not questioning their competencies; I am questioning the convergence of the fat cats from one region at what is one of Kenya’s richest ministries. What will stop them from becoming a cartel?

Second, all the ministry’s strategic agencies, including the Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Railways, Kenya National Highways Authority, to name but three, are similarly managed by officers from the same region.

Again I do not question their competencies, but point out that the concentration of such talent from one region at one place suggests a deliberate scheme to control the ministry by a tribal cabal.

My fears are heightened when I note that the chairman of the parliamentary Transport Committee is one Maina Kamanda.

Three, the corrupted tendering for the duty free shops which I talked about here is, of course, domiciled at the ministry.

I stand by my position that the tendering was manipulated to lock out local firms and hand the multi-billion-shilling five-year contract to the Swiss firm Dufry International.

I will be watching keenly the court case brought by Consumers Federation of Kenya praying for the annulment of the tender.

There is an even bigger tender that I have written about and it is even more strategic and lucrative for Kenya, which means it carries even bigger kickbacks for the mandarins at Transport.

That is the selection of the concession operator for the Japanese International Cooperation Agency-funded Second Terminal at the Port of Mombasa.

You will recall that Treasury bigwigs changed the tender rules midstream precisely to kick out certain international firms whose local partners were thought not to be politically correct.

But the main reason was to award the tender to a controversial Middle East port operator.

The matter is still pending before the Public Private Petitions Committee as Kenya awaits the visit by a ruffled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this side of this half of 2016.

Last, but not least, I took issue with the fact that Chinese firms, and especially China Wu Yi, near monopolise road construction in Kenya.

Aren’t they favoured at the expense of local and other international firms? But why? Kenyans who play by the rules and work hard deserve the protection of