Government commits to paying Sh165b pending bills

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen when he appeared before the National Assembly Finance Committee during the institution hearing on the Finance bill, 2024, on June 11, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The government will ensure pending bills are paid to allow contractors build more roads, Transport and Roads Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen has said.

Appearing on Spice FM’s Situation Room, Murkomen said there are Sh165 billion pending bills that have almost grounded construction of new roads across the country given that some contractors were almost being auctioned because of government failure to pay them.

“I reported that the pending bills on various projects as at December 31, 2023 were Sh162.4 billion The updated pending bills as at June 30, 2024, stood at Sh165 billion,” said Murkomen.

The main challenge in road development, Murkomen said, is budget inadequacy. He noted that the average net government’s development budget ceilings over the years have averaged Sh55 billion.

As of June 2024, the outstanding commitments on contracted road projects were Sh700 billion including the outstanding portfolio of Sh165 billion.

“With the average ceiling allocations of Sh55 billion, the committed road projects will take about 15 years to complete. The inadequate budget allocation to projects culminates in delayed project implementation, pending bills, and interest claims among other negative factors,” said Murkomen.

Murkomen said the ministry had received Sh37 billion in concessional financing support that will be used to build about 15 new roads.

 Asked about the setback the government got following the Gen Z protests that caused President William Ruto to reject Finance Bill, 2024, the CS said all was not lost.

“President Ruto is going to move the subject patiently in his bilateral engagements with our partner. And this is a matter that is dear in his heart. We have given ourselves timelines that hopefully by the end of this year, we should be able to report progress on the promises. I don’t want to say them here because there are ongoing consultations.’’

The CS said that when former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee government was in power, it went for the ambitious construction of 10,000 kilometres roads that would include low-volume seal roads already constructed but had not been maintained

However, Murkomen said to implement the project meant Uhuru had to borrow.

He argued that President William Ruto had requested that the ministry put on hold any new projects until there was money to pay contractors to complete the remaining 4,000 kilometres of the 10,000 kilometres project.

Murkomen said the Finance Bill, 2024, was supposed to sort out the bills, noting that some contractors had to wait for more than seven years to be paidand some were being auctioned.

“Across the country, the Mau Mau road, which crosses through Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, and Nyandarua counties was among many other key projects that had stalled.

‘‘We must face the truth now, there is no budget to pay some of the contractors,” said Murkomen.

Murkomen said President Ruto’s administration was between a rock and a hard place given that his manifesto promised Kenyans more roads.  However, some roads had been completed under the Jubilee administration.

“Now we will only work to complete the roads already committed. Many commitments were made, but we cannot cancel the contracts because we will be forced to pay for damages, therefore we will only deal with the roads under commitment, and we will not start a new project unless we get funding from development partners,” he said.

He said that in some cases they were trying to negotiate with the contractors to see if the government could pay a certain amount of money so that, if they were willing, they would continue to construct roads as they wait for their dues which we will pay in the subsequent financial year.

The good news Murkomen said is that the President asked him to engage with the development partners, particularly from China, whom some are contractors.

He said there were about 1,000 kilometres of roads currently under construction, including the 750 kilometres tarmac road that links Isiolo and Mandera, and another 250 kilometres of roads across the country, because of the President’s intervention.

“For the first time, we will complete the 750 kilometres of the tarmac road between Isiolo and Mandera that will connect the northern counties and open up Mandera. The road will open up regions that were referred to as low potential areas. The road should be complete by 2028.’’

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