Ensure every penny counts in railway land compensation

Kenya Railways Managing Director Mr. Atanas Maina at Milimani law court where he was charged illegally facilitating 22133million shillings for SGR compensations. [Photo: Beverlyne Musili,Standard]

Issues around the Standard Gauge Railway refuse to go away. Muhammad Swazuri, until recently the National Lands Commission (NLC) Chairman was arrested together with six other officials of the commission in what was termed as complicity in committing economic crimes.

Already, questions have been raised regarding the amounts of money paid out as compensation for land on which the SGR has been constructed. Studies commissioned by the John Hopkins University’s Africa Research show the extent of over compensation.

Because the matter of over-compensation falls in the ambit of corruption, it needs to be investigated to its logical conclusion. Initial estimates for land compensation for the first phase of the SGR, laid between Mombasa and Syokimau in Machakos County were Sh3.8 billion yet, somehow, the amount soared to Sh30 billion. Some of those who still demand compensation for their land have complained of bias and, in some cases, non-payment, but Swazuri was always quick to pour cold water on such claims.

Claims that a few individuals colluded with NLC officials to present fake title deeds for compensation, as was with the Embakasi land, deserves deeper scrutiny. To have given compensation on land that NLC should have understood to be public property underscores deep seated corruption deals within the commission that ought to be unearthed.

We cannot run away from the truth about the cost of the first phase of the SGR having been inflated. Ethiopia’s Standard Gauge Railway was built at a fraction of the cost that Kenya has spent on the first phase.  

Overall, the first phase of the SGR cost the tax payer Sh327 billion, way above the projection of Sh220 billion. While Ethiopia spent Sh4.9 million per kilometer of its SGR, Kenya is said to have spent Sh6.6 million per kilometer.

With the construction of the second phase underway, taxpayers’ money should be used prudently to avoid wastage through over-compensation. Money that could easily be ending up in the pockets of government bureaucrats involved with the construction of the SGR. It is estimated that for the SGR land between Nairobi and Naivasha, the government will spend Sh15 billion, which is still too high. To avoid the attendant corruption in land compensate, there needs to be specific parameters within which compensation is made.

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