Shape up or ship out, state tells local road contractors

Roads and Civil Engineering Contractors Association chairman Kishan Gehlot (left) and contractor Daniel Wamahiyu (right) present their annual report to PS for Infrastructure Julius Korir and Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]
Local contractors are fighting to keep themselves afloat as mightier Chinese colleagues elbow them out of mega projects.

At a meeting with the Ministry of Transport officials on Friday night, the Roads and Civil Engineering Contractors Association pleaded with the government not to condemn all local firms due to a few bad apples.

Transport CS James Macharia told the engineers that he gets embarrassed when he tours projects around the country and meets locals protesting poor workmanship by local contractors.

He said there were incidents where locals have asked him to cancel contracts awarded to Kenyan contractors and give work to Chinese who have built a name as being more efficient.

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Local contractors complained about skewed contracts, delayed payments and interference by politicians in procurement process. 

Macharia urged local contractors to address the issues on non-performance as well as quality that keep emerging.

“Whenever we pay local contractors, we are told when we visit that they bought land or apartments with it. Others marry second wives and are left with nothing to finish the project. It is important to plough back the money you receive into the projects,” Macharia said.

The CS said the government had identified roads as a key enabler and was pumping billions of shillings into the sector as part of its Big 4 Agenda.

He said his ministry currently has a deficit of Sh125 billion and is in negotiations with the National Treasury on how to bridge the gap. Part of this money will be used to clear pending bills.

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He said he was however alive to the fact that the Chinese continue to get the lion’s share of the billions.

Pen and paper

In Phase One of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Macharia acknowledge that the Chinese contractor had ‘cheated’ the government since the firm did not put to pen and paper the requirement to give 40 per cent of the works in the contract. He said the government only relied on goodwill but this was not enough to force the Chinese to give Kenyan contractors significant share of the works. “But we are now wiser and for Phase 2A, we put the requirement in the contract and this means that out of the Sh150 billion, at least Sh60 billion will go to Kenyan contractors,” Macharia said.

Locals said they were left with just doing menial jobs and planting grass.

Daniel Wamahiu, a contractor who chaired the meeting said local contractors were also being out-bid by the Chinese contractors for works local frims have capacity to do.

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At the same meeting, East Africa Regional Director at African Development Bank (AfDB) Gabriel Negatu said the bank was also concerned that Kenyan contractors were not getting a good share of the billions. The bank currently has projects valued at about Sh600 billion in Kenya.

“We are concerned that Kenyan contractors are not getting enough of it. We have no objection if the government comes to us and says a certain percentage is given to local contractors,” he said.   

Macharia added that besides the billions from the AfDB, the World Bank is also funding projects worth Sh630 billion in Kenya and urged local contractors to position themselves appropriately to get these contracts.

Some of the big local contractors that were highlighted for doing a good job include SS Mehta Sons as well as H Young.

“Lumping all local contractors together is not fair as it amounts to blanket condemnation. But we need the local contractors to have a professional code of conduct that will ensure they deliver on their part of the bargain,” said Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa, the chairman of the House Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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The contractors had also invited a number of politicians to their annual dinner held at a Nairobi hotel.

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ChineseMinistry of TransportJames MachariaRoad Contractors