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ELECTION 2022

The story of Sigiri bridge’s inflated costs

COUNTIES
By Moses Michira and Paul Wafula | Sep 23rd 2017 | 6 min read

The Sigiri Bridge in Budalangi, Busia County after it collapsed in June.(Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

Reported construction costs for the Sh1 billion bridge that collapsed soon after inspection by President Uhuru Kenyatta was hugely inflated.

Contract documents show that the highly-hyped project would cost Sh685 million, just about half of the reported prices.

But the contract price would still arouse interest when the project is stacked up against comparable ones — including a seemingly sturdier bridge further up on the same River Nzoia.

Khaunga Bridge, over the same river near Mumias, was built at a fraction: less than Sh128 million, officials of Kakamega County said.

Other comparisons with the Standard Gauge Railway which consists 98 bridges, most being much longer, further points out the abnormal price paid for Sigiri.

Much-hyped

Investigations have revealed that the government may have doubled the value of the much-hyped project in Busia County amid a series of inconsistencies.

The award letter issued to the contractor China Overseas Engineering Group Company Ltd and seen by Saturday Standard indicates the contract sum as only Sh685 million. Hostile Chinese officials declined to share the contract document despite having several copies at the site office a kilometre away from the damaged bridge.

Project employer Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra), on behalf of the Kenyan government, said the contractor was awarded the job at “approximately Sh900 million”.

Officials at Kerra declined to share the exact details on the costs, saying the award documents were confidential.

“It (the award letter) is not a public document, it can only be accessed from the contractor’s office,” the agency said in an e-mailed response.

Kerra adds that the Chinese contractor was hired to design and build the bridge over an 18-month period that would have expired mid this month, and then provide maintenance for five years.

It is not clear what the motivation for hyping the value of the bridge above the contract price was.

In yet another contradiction, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the bridge was built at Sh1 billion, and that it would “significantly” change the lives of the intended users.

“This bridge will significantly reduce deaths... It is constructed by my government at a cost of Sh1billion and will be completed by mid-July,” President Kenyatta posted in his official tweeter account after inspecting the project.

Mr Kenyatta and his entourage, which included the then Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, termed the bridge a flagship project that would define his leadership.

Nine people had drowned and died some time in 2014 while crossing the river in a canoe, prompting the President to order the construction of the bridge.

But the project became a huge embarrassment to the contractor and, admittedly, the State after it came tumbling down, only four weeks to the scheduled completion date.

Dozens of masons were on the bridge before it came tumbling down at around 9am, many suffering varying degrees of injuries.

Co-workers who spoke to Saturday Standard said the injured workers had been discharged from hospital, but “a few” were yet to make full recovery to enable them resume duty.

Tough questions abound over how the costly bridge could collapse considering that government inspectors should be involved at every stage of construction. Partial completion reports are submitted to the employer periodically to enable processing of payments.

Lack of balance

An investigation was directed by Infrastructure PS Eng John Mosonik to determine what compromised the structural integrity leading to the bridge’s crumpling.

A report of the probe has been completed but is yet to be made public. Mosonik told Saturday Standard in an interview that he had received several reports from different agencies and professional bodies, but was yet to compile the findings.

“We have received many volumes but I need a few more days to study them and come up with an official report,” said the PS. He could not divulge any details from the preliminary investigation but admitted that the collapse was a major embarrassment to his ministry and the contractor.

Workers at the site, who are predominantly manual labourers, link the fault to lack of balance and possibly that the rush in construction may have denied the concrete sufficient time to cure.

The contractor will however foot the bill for the restoration of the bridge because it broke before it had been handed over to Kerra.

Nervous officials of the Chinese firm declined to speak about the disaster when reporters visited the site office. Instead, they referred questions about the cause of the collapse and the scope of works for the project to the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.

Initially, the project manager Jerome Azhuha is quoted as having said that his firm was not at fault over the collapse, citing that all the engineering specifications were met fully in the building.

“From our engineering part, this is unusual, as all the standards and specifications were met. We are going to look into the reasons and make public our findings,” Azhuha said in a statement following the collpase.

Presently, workers who survived the accident can be seen at the site which has since been fenced off to keep away curious visitors, breaking up the collapsed beams using mallets and chisels — perhaps to salvage the metal bars used in the initial construction.

But at the quoted price, the China Overseas Engineering Group Company would still make a huge margin when the cost is compared with a similar bridge built over the same river but further upstream at Khaunga area near Mumias Sugar Company.

Kakamega County spokesman Dickson Rayori told Saturday Standard that Mahavir Transporters and Contractors — a local firm— was awarded the job for Sh127.7 million.

The design incorporates four vertical piers to support hundreds of tonnes making up the beam at the top.

Sigiri’s design, on the other hand, encompasses only two piers despite being slightly longer and proportionately heavier — informing fears among workers about source of weakness.

Mr Rayori said the length of the bridge is 75 metres, slightly shorter than the estimated 100-metre long one in Sigiri, Busia County.

Among the project specifications was that it would be a nine-meter wide bridge, which also compares closely to the collapsed one.

A closer comparison between the two projects is after taking away the cost of building the approach roads for the Sigiri Bridge. Mosonik has previously announced that the State had lowered ceiling price for developing a rural road such as the one leading to Sigiri Bridge by capping it at Sh35 million per kilometre.

Working with Mosonik’s price guidelines, the cumulative distance of three kilometres on either side of the bridge would therefore cost not more than Sh105 million.

In this regard then, the bridge would be the most expensive component of the Chinese-built project whose cost would be at least Sh800 million assuming the approximate price given by Kerra. For the marginal difference in length, the prices for the two projects are incomparable as Sigiri is about six times costlier. Khaunga bridge is only 25 per cent shorter, which is not commensurate with wide difference in costing to inform concerns that Kenyans may have not found value for money at Sigiri — the collapse aside.

However, Mosonik defended the bridge, saying he could not compare the two projects because he does not know the project specifications of Khaunga Bridge.

“We are not comparing like for like when we consider the two bridges but I can assure you that Sigiri contract was awarded at a fair price,” said the PS.

Fair price

On the varying project cost, he said Sh1.2 billion was the value quoted by the highest bidder who had submitted superior design and construction plans.

The selected contractor quoted Sh685 million but “on condition that they adjust the project design and specifications to get as close as possible to the costliest bidder”.

He wondered how Khaunga Bridge could be built at such a small cost. “I cannot purport to speak for them (Kakamega County) but I can’t give you a bridge for Sh120 million.”

Construction of the roads is, however, yet to begin, a pointer to the difficult timelines for the contractor who has been directed by the State to hand over the project by December 20.

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