Murkomen, Tuya and Malonza before Senate over Multibillion shillings Aberdare forest road

CSs Kipchumba Murkomen, Soipan Tuya and Penina Malonza before Senate. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen has said the government will only embark on the construction of the multi-billion shillings road going through Aberdare forest if there is a positive Environmental Social Impact Assessment report.

Murkomen said that the 97.8-kilometer road, which links Murang’a, Nyeri, and Nyandarua counties has 52 kilometers going through the forest with conservationists have raised concerns that the project will degrade the environment and that only a positive environmental social impact assessment license will pave way for its continuation.

Appearing before the joint seating of Senate Lands and Senate Transport Committees in Nairobi yesterday Murkomen said that the road project was abandoned in 2009 over the same issues in 2018 with a review having been started and they are waiting for the outcome of the review that will give direction on what will be done next.

“We are waiting for the final environmental assessment report which will determine whether we will go ahead with the multi-billion-shilling project which has stalled for the last 10 years because working on a road project in the Aberdare Forest is a matter of great concern since the environment has to be protected,” said Murkomen.

The Cabinet Secretary told the joint Senate Committees that the ministry will not compel other ministries or government agencies to implement the continuation of the project as a balance must be established between environmental conservation and infrastructural development.

Murkomen said that they will not threaten experts conducting the environmental and social impact assessment to come up with a twisted report but let them do their work and put forward a professional report since the government will want to see the interests of all stakeholders taken care of.

The Roads Cabinet Secretary said that another condition that will come into play is the budgeting for the project, observing that the project has not been allocated any budget in the current financial year and that the project had been valued to cost Sh12 billion five years ago is now expected to cost Sh15 billion currently.

“The government will not bow down to pressure by politicians who are telling their people that the road must be done yet all necessary measures have not been put in place, let them not give false hopes to the people they represent since the due process will be followed,” said Murkomen.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya told the committee that public participation is currently being undertaken to address the issues raised such as the massive negative impact to the Aberdare forest ecosystem with National Environment Management Authority has categorized the project as high-risk as it traverses an environmentally sensitive area.

Tuya said that Kenya National Highways Authority must ensure outstanding issues are comprehensively addressed with the Environmental Social Impact Assessment report submitted to the National Environmental Authority for review, approval, and directions before the implementation of the project

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Peninah Malonza also expressed concerns over the project citing restriction of movement of wildlife, soil waste littering on the roadside in the park, pollution from oil spills from the earth-moving machines, potential noise disturbance to wildlife population, as well as poaching and endangering an already fragile ecosystem.

“Several reports about this project have shown that it has lesser socio-economic benefits and is not economically viable from an environmental sustainability standpoint, the project is not acceptable, we are therefore asking for an alternative route passing through other areas,” said Malonza.

Nyandarua Senator John Methu insisted that the project must be done as Nyandarua County residents will not be punished for being good conservationists by having the third largest forest cover and one of the five water towers in the country and that moderation measures need to be put in place instead.

Methu said that the construction of underpasses at specific locations to allow the movement of wildlife, employ waste management practices, and random checks on Public Service Vehicles with a regular vehicle inspection and so on will go a long way to ensure the project is environmentally friendly.

“The project has massive economic significance as it spans a huge economic region crossing more than 10 counties, this is not the only road that will go through a forest since there are other roads that also go through forests in the area without any challenges, this should not be an exception,” said Methu.

Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga supported Methu’s statement, maintaining that the project is key to increasing trade in the Mount Kenya region as it connects the counties hence it has economic value and that the road is specifically very important to the people he represents and must be done.

Taita Taveta Senator Johnes Mwaruma asked the ministries of Roads, Environment, and Tourism should have a strategy in place to enable the project to be implemented and that a task force should be formed to look into the project and find a way it can be implemented.