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Why our road construction costs are obscene

COLUMNS
By Dismas Mokua | October 13th 2013

Dismas Mokua

[email protected]

Sound investment in infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth. Countries with economies under transition spend a big percentage of development funds on the road network.

But road construction in Kenya is a major drain on our meager resources. The Kenyan taxpayer parts with Sh83 million for every kilometer of road tarmacked. In Ethiopia the same distance of road costs Sh34 million and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it comes much cheaper at Sh20 million. This comparison is for a standard road; two lanes, seven meters wide.

Countries that have placed a premium on the development of infrastructure have recorded sustainable economic growth, culminating in more disposable incomes for their citizenry. The absence of good roads means that Kenya’s Vision 2030 will remain a pipe dream.

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Dairy farmers in Nyandarua have had to pour milk because they can’t access markets. Folks die in North Eastern Kenya because of lack of food while farmers in Kitale have surplus harvest. There are no roads linking the demand and supply regions. This messy and unacceptable situation is the product of a poor road policy. The Kenyan road policy needs a fundamental and radical overhaul to free it from special interest groups that have suffocated the development of a road network across the nation.

There are many issues around road construction that Kenya has to contend with. Cash flow challenges, designer changes, inflation, erratic interest rate fluctuations as well as poor project management stand out but they are not insurmountable.

However, there are two elephants in the room; the biggest being the cost of tarmacking roads in Kenya. By its very nature, the construction industry is a cost intensive sector owing to the unavoidable variations arising from cost of inputs. But even Kenya probably has the highest cost of doing roads in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the space of supervision consultancy, Kenya takes position two in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria.

The average cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction supervision in Nigeria stands at Sh3 million while in Kenya it stands at Sh24 million per kilometer.

Why would it cost Sh60 million more to do a kilometer of road in Kenya compared to DR Congo? Is it not time for a deliberate study on why road construction in Kenya has been held hostage and why the costs are so high compared to our neighbours? There is a valid case for an independent judicial investigation on road construction costs in Kenya.

The second elephant in the room is the Kenyan contractor. How come Kenyan contractors who win tenders across the borders are able to do roads in neighbouring countries at one-third of the cost?

Since the buck stops at the Presidency, it is not possible that President Kenyatta would have a good night’s sleep knowing that cabals in his administration are lining their pockets with Sh60 million every time a single kilometre of road comes up!

The writer is a communications consultant who analyses business politics

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