Probe into SGR racism fails to meet deadline

Standard Gauge Railway locomotive.
The investigating team looking into racism and discrimination at the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) needs two more weeks to complete their work after failing to meet its own deadline. 

Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said the team is running a little late but should complete their work in the next two weeks. Their recommendations, the CS said, will inform the next course of action to be taken by the ministry.

“The investigation may be running a little late, may be a week or two. But it should be ready in the next two weeks. Our action will depend on the outcomes of the report,” Yatani said in a telephone interview.

The CS explained that the team has been interviewing employees of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) as part of a comprehensive investigation he ordered on July 11. The team, he said, is mainly investigating work place conditions and discrimination of Kenyan workers at the firm alongside other issues that have rocked the Sh327 billion railway line. 

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“We are looking at the human resource, health and benefits issues. We want to find out if the benefits being paid are the correct ones as declared at the Kenya Revenue Authority. Also we are keen on the occupational health and safety issues,” Yatani said. The railway operator, CRBC, was accused of declaring different figures to KRA compared to what it actually pays its staff. 

When he ordered the probe, the CS said the allegations, if true, point to a violation of both Article 41 of the Constitution and the labour laws. Kenya Railways had also started its own investigations before the Labour ministry announced it was taking over the exercise given that the issues raised fell under its docket.

The ministry promised that appropriate corrective action, including prosecution, will be taken against those found culpable. It launched the investigations following an investigation by Sunday Standard that brought to light what happens behind the SGR walls after Kenyan staff complained of neo-colonialism, racism and blatant discrimination as the taxpayer foots the Sh30 million a day bill for the train.

Yatani said the ministry had taken over the probe and assembled a high level team of officials to do it. The team was expected to submit a report by the end of July, but the report is yet to be competed one month after this self-imposed deadline.

The expose by this paper unearthed huge pay disparities on the basis of race, where Chinese nationals were being paid three times or more than their Kenyan counterparts for the same job. It also revealed unfair treatment, long working hours, threats, harassment and denial of right of association among others.

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The report revealed that Kenyan workers were being treated differently from their Chinese colleagues at their place of work, with the operator running separate sets of standards.

"Now we sit on a round table instead. The other table has been removed. The most abusive Chinese was moved to another department but the rest of the things are just the same," an employee at the firm said. 

Kenya Railways said it was building an electric fence along the new railway line to address the issue of wildlife being killed by the train between Nairobi and Mombasa. The government is yet to decisively address the other matters.

This week, a Chinese national, Liu Jiaqi, was deported after he said Kenyans looked like monkeys in a slur that has embarrassed the Chinese embassy. He made the claims even before President Kenyatta landed back to the country from China where he went to seek more loans and companies willing to pump more billions into other infrastructure projects.

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Ukur YataniStandard Gauge RailwaySGRRacism