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Costly projects shouldn’t be at expense of overtaxed citizens

OPINION
By Leonard Khafafa | June 29th 2021

Ukur Yatani holds up a briefcase containing the Budget for the 2020/22 financial year. [David Njaaga, Standard]

A lot has been said about the tremendous trust deficit the Jubilee administration’s projects have. Sorely lacking the Midas touch, most of Jubilee promises have turned, not to gold, but to objects of disappointment. The citizens have, for the past eight years, been the unwitting emptors of grossly inflated projects to the detriment of the country’s coffers.

And it seems the devil is in the details. The opacity with which such projects are shrouded suggests a component of malfeasance sanctionable under law. A case in point is the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) funded and built by lenders from the orient. Despite promises from President Uhuru Kenyatta, specifics of this project are still not in the public domain.

No amount of invocation of the Access to Information Act has availed them. What is known is that the SGR will continue to be loss-making for the foreseeable future.

Then there is the new Expressway from Mlolongo to Westlands. According to official spiel, it will be a game-changer in the alleviation of Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams. As one of the country’s first Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), the cost of funding and responsibility of building this highway is to be borne by private contractors who will, upon completion, operate and charge toll fees for access until they recoup their investment.

What is glossed over is the fact that the government has still incurred great costs in this project. The tab from the relocation of utility lines, running into billions, has been picked by taxpayers.

Further, because the construction of this double-decker highway has damaged huge sections of existing infrastructure, costly repairs will be required to restore them. No one is clear about who shoulders these costs, or whether they are included in the PPP contract.

If the horrendous traffic jams caused by the construction of the expressway have become the bete noire of Nairobi existence, the anticipated Rironi-Mau Summit Road project promises to be much worse.

Going by last week’s hours-long jams when this key road was blocked off for the Safari Rally event, gridlocks that reverberate to most parts of the country will be expected once construction commences later this year. And unlike the expressway where the option of using existing infrastructure will be available to those who cannot afford toll fees, the Rironi-Mau Summit Road offers no such recourse.

The new road is going to be built on the existing corridor. Once completed, travellers will have to fork out copious amounts of toll fees per kilometre to access this improved road. One wonders whether it really provides bang for buck for frequent travellers on this section; whether the alternative, which would entail meandering detours to avoid toll fees, makes any financial sense.

No doubt, the country’s travel infrastructure is archaic and dilapidated. The nub of the situation is that it must be improved on to avoid Kenya becoming the region’s development laggard. But this should not always be at the expense and comfort of citizens already burdened by onerous taxes.

Road maintenance and railway development levies have been collected for years, seemingly, without corresponding benefits to taxpayers. Perhaps greater transparency is needed.

Perhaps sedulous attention to details of these PPPs is needful lest the country engages in yet another fool’s errand. After all, the devil is in the details!

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst

 

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