World Bank raises graft worries in Sh120b works

Principal Secretary of State Department of National Water Services at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Prof. Fred Segor [holding a paper] tour the proposed Mwache Dam construction site in Kwale County.Picture taken on March 31, 2017. [Photo: Omondi Onyango/Standard]

The World Bank is considering scrapping funding for several water projects across the country over integrity concerns.

At risk includes Sh120 billion in friendly loans for developing arid counties in northern Kenya.

Projects on the chopping block are the Sh14.8 billion Mwache Dam in Kwale, flood mitigation in Budalang’i and hundreds of small water works scattered across Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo and Marsabit.

Scuttling of the projects would come with huge implications down the road for the country, which is even today grappling with famine linked to drought and deaths.

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Among the issues that could derail the ambitious water projects are abnormal cost variations of past projects, according to a confidential letter addressed to top officials, including National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.

Other concerns raised in the March 1 letter, also copied to Water and Sanitation CS Simon Chelugui, relate to the slow implementation of projects due to unwarranted delays despite the release of budgeted funds.

Conditions laid out by the lender to guarantee retention of financial support extend to immediate commitment to address sexual offences allegations against workers at the Northern Collector Tunnel project in Murang’a.

This harsh verdict was returned by top officials of Water Global Practice, the World Bank arm that funds development of water, led by director Ayat Soliman and manager Catherine Tovey, after their inspection tour of Kenya in the last week of February.

“While the water sector remains an important priority for World Bank support, we are concerned by the slow pace of implementation of the water portfolio coupled with significant social and governance risks,” wrote WB regional director Carlos Felipe Jaramillo.

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The officials’ visit came in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the development of three mega dams in the Rift Valley by an Italian contractor, CMC di Ravenna, over alleged payment of kickbacks to Kenyan officials as reward for contract award.

Mr Jaramillo’s letter spelt out tough conditions and gave strict timelines that have since elapsed.

He directed Mr Rotich to immediately release Sh2.5 billion to fund public participation and other priority activities in the North and North Eastern Development Initiative, which encompasses tens of water projects.

“If the County Participation Agreements are not signed by March 11, 2019, we should need to revisit the viability of the current scope and design of the project and assess options for restructuring and cancelation of funds,” Jaramillo wrote.

Further, Rotich was told to find Sh600 million this year to resettle people displaced by the Mwache Dam project.

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It was not possible to immediately establish whether the tough conditions given were met as yesterday was not an official working day.

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World BankMwache DamSimon CheluguiCMC di RavennaCatherine Tovey