Railway plan presents major economic headache for Jubilee as leaders disagree

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga opens the Makadara Railway Station in Nairobi, last year December. [PHOTO: FILE]
            Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga opens the Makadara Railway Station in Nairobi, last year December. [PHOTO: FILE]
By OSCAR OBONYO

Retired presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki battled with the Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing scandals during their separate reigns. The Standard Gauge Railway project is fast shaping up as a major economic headache for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nine-month old government.

What is even more intriguing about the railway project saga is that politicians allied to the ruling Jubilee Coalition dominate the debate over its execution. In fact, the whistle blower over alleged corruption surrounding the project is Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, who is allied to Deputy President William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).

This begs a host of questions. Does the possibility exist that Keter’s role is a pointer that one wing of Jubilee is uncomfortable with the project’s implementation?

While top Jubilee leaders accuse Keter of doing bidding for high-profile cartels “who missed out on the railway tender”, official opposition, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) politicians claim the first-term MP is an innocent soul being sacrificed for a big clandestine gain.

Barely three days after top Jubilee officials gave the President a seven-day ultimatum to name the cartels frustrating the multi-billion shilling project, Uhuru addressed the nation where he declared the project shall proceed as planned. However, he did not name the cartels.

Changed tune

Contacted for comment, leaders of Majority in the National Assembly and the Senate, Aden Duale and Prof Kithure Kindiki, who last weekend led fellow Jubilee allied MPs in challenging the President to expose the cartels within a week, seemed to have changed tune. The politicians, who threatened to “name and shame the crooks” if the President failed to oblige, are now a contented lot.

Kindiki says he is satisfied with the President’s reaction as it has confirmed that indeed the cartels exist and that what we are witnessing are activities of businessmen bitter for having missed out on contracts.

“What is important is that the President has confirmed existence of these cartels. And of course you do not expect the Head of State to give a list of his own citizens behind this problem. There are procedures for this and it shall be done,” said the Tharaka-Nithi County senator.

His Elgeyo-Marakwet counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen equally expressed his satisfaction by pointing out that the President had reacted “nicely” as per their demands. According to him, the President only served to confirm that cartels were behind the current hitch.

However, Leader of Minority in the Senate Moses Wetang’ula dismissed the assertions of his colleagues, claiming that they are nothing but rehearsed statements. According to the Bungoma County Senator, there is no way Duale and Kindiki can go public in a rally to challenge or hit out at the leader of their coalition without first consulting him.         

But Kindiki maintains he is not part of the Executive and sometimes, as a politician, he sees no contradiction in expressing his views in public.

“Sometimes some of these issues that are already in the public domain and being discussed in political rallies are better addressed in the public realm,” he said.

Wetangula reads mischief in the ultimatum given to the President: “The President has told us that those frustrating the railway project are members of a cartel who failed to clinch tenders. But as far as Kenyans know, there was never a tendering process on this matter. If this was done, who were the competitors of the losing cartels and what was their quotation?”

Meanwhile, Kakamega County Senator Boni Khalwale questions what he sees as the President’s disinterest in fighting outright corruption.

“There is one thing that Uhuru and I share, which is that we were both, at one time, chairmen of the parliamentary watchdog committee, PAC, and he vehemently pursued the Anglo Leasing scam. What has changed over the years? Why is he not interested in getting to the bottom of this one?” posed Dr Khalwale.

The vocal United Democratic Forum (UDF) senator claims there can only be two reasons for the perceived change of heart – he is either trying to raise campaign money for the next presidential poll or recoup the billions he spent in the last elections.

But Duale dismisses Khalwale’s claims as baseless. He attributes the current hitch solely to cartels, which have now regrouped with the view of “grabbing all major tenders in government”. 

Unmasking faces

Is he, however, willing to unmask the faces behind the so-called cartels? Like the rest, Duale is cautious. But the Garissa Town MP offers a hint on who exactly he is talking about.

“Members of these cartels are the very ones who were involved in the Anglo Leasing scam; they were behind the misappropriation of the cash meant for forensic lab and the naval ship projects in the Kibaki government,” he says.

Even as he points an accusing finger at the Kibaki team, key Jubilee leaders served in senior positions in the Kibaki administration when the standard gauge railway project was conceived.

President Uhuru was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance. Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau, under whose ministry the project lies was then permanent secretary in the Roads ministry, while newly appointed Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua was Finance PS.

In the meantime, Murkomen, who describes the cartels as dangerous, calls for action to totally eliminate their activities.

“It is not that they have any professional duty to offer and neither do they boast any professional or technical know-how. Their interest is purely brokerage. We have to fight them and such a battle is for our very own democratic space,” he told The Standard on Sunday.

Duale on the other hand promises to name the cartels “the moment the PIC committee tables its report to the House, because it is here where I enjoy my parliamentary privileges”.

He also warns Keter that he will expose him: “When the report comes to the House, I will move a substantive motion to discuss the character of Keter. And there are many more who are serving interests of cartels instead of those of wananchi who elected them to Parliament.”

Standard Gauge Railway project Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing scandal