Building footbridges should not cost taxpayers an arm and a leg

Reports that four footbridges to be built on Nairobi’s Lang’ata Road could cost Sh5 billion- making them some of the world’s most expensive footbridges- stirred an uproar yesterday.

Worst of all, the proposed Sh65 billion expressway along Mombasa Road could render the bridges useless in what is akin to throwing money away.

Already, Kenya National Highways Authority, which procures and oversees construction of roads across the country, has signed the loan agreement and it is just a matter of time before the works begin.

Moreover, two other bridges along Mombasa Road that cost Sh360 million will be brought down to give way to the new expressway that President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned on Wednesday.

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The concern really is whether the taxpayer is paying so much for what could go for much less. Evidently, that seems to be the case.

In any case, footbridges are not the best and the only solution to address pedestrian woes about road crossing.

In fact, the rationale for more footbridges should be questioned. Is it a conduit for engineers keen on plugging onto the gravy train? In truth, most world cities don’t have footbridges. Perhaps because they are ugly and thus a nuisance to the eye; or because they undermine the original road design. There is the option of building underpasses like the one at the University of Nairobi crossing along Uhuru Highway.

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Yet sadly, the current case encapsulates what bedevils public procurement.

Despite its enactment, the Public Procurement and Disposal Act (2015) has not streamlined the supply of goods and services to the State. It is still prone to the chicanery that often leads to inflated prices that drives up costs through the roof.

It is no secret that procurement departments in all ministries are hotbeds for corruption.

The motivation for a cut is behind the conception of most of the projects. Kickbacks and rent-seeking form part of the cost of doing Government business.

From the SGR, to building roads, to the Kimwarer and Arror dam scandal, to the supply of office stationery, funds have been creamed off, leaving little for actual projects. Projects end up costing twice or thrice more than they ought to. The footbridge is just one out of many cases where prices were inflated to cater for kickbacks.

And because of the many dirty tricks played, firms with the capability to perform and deliver are often denied these lucrative tenders.

So in most cases, these projects are done with little or no consideration for quality assurance, return on investment or payback period, which underpin public finance.

Considering this possibility, it would make sense to put on hold the plans for the footbridges unless cheap alternatives are provided.

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Kenya National Highways AuthorityUhuru KenyattaFootbridges