Just a few days after the Japanese Prime Minister visited the country to discuss trade, a key project funded by the Japanese is being rocked by controversies amid uncertainty over its implementation.
This is as the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has defended its move to lock out a bidder from the tender process in a multi-billion Japanese-funded Kenya special economic zone works at Mombasa port.
KPA managing director William Ruto in a letter dated April 24, seen by The Standard, said KPA will be breaking the law to allow the inclusion of the unnamed bidder in the Sh39 billion project's procurement plan at this stage.
The finalists of the multi-billion tender include rival Japanese contractors Toyo Construction Company Ltd and Toa Corporation.
The Standard could not immediately reach the KPA officials for comment.
But in his letter addressed to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chief Representative Iwama Hajime, the newly appointed KPA managing director Mr Ruto said the process that saw the firm blocked was above the law.
"In the present procurement, JICA concurred with the bid opening, preliminary and technical evaluation procedure vide our letter dated February 10, 2023, and email correspondence from JICA which clearly provided the evaluation criteria," said Ruto.
"It is a fact that the outcome of the evaluation process was guided in strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the said evaluation criteria in accordance with JICA guidelines."
Mr Ruto, who took over recently the management of the port following his appointment, maintained it would be "unfair and legally un-procedural to deviate from the findings of an agreed evaluation criteria."
The Standard could not immediately reach JICA for comment.
Mr Ruto concluded the Government is keen on ending the dispute and moving on with the project.
“We wish to emphasise that the Government of Kenya is keen on speedy implementation of this project,” he said.
While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to invest in projects to grow Kenya’s economy, experts have warned that the controversy around the Dongo Kundu project could see Japan slow down its commitment to splash more billions.
A source at KPA hinted that pressure from Transport Ministry is behind the push to lock out one unnamed bidder.
The source went further to underscore fears of those in management that the back and forth on the tender could warrant investigations something the new team does not want.
Some bidders had earlier alleged KPA has moved to amend the terms of eligibility for the project for the special economic zone known as Dongo Kundu in Mombasa in an alleged bid to rig the project in favour of an unspecified firm.
They had alleged a plot to increase the tender period from the current five to 10 years, to up to 15 years, to suit a particular company. In a letter dated December 7, 2022, and addressed to JICA Chief Representative Iwama Hajime, former KPA boss John Mwangemi had also requested JICA to back the change of criteria.