President Uhuru Kenyatta was taken to task by central Kenya residents over the state of incomplete projects in the region as he rallied them to register as voters.
The residents showed dissatisfaction with his government as they shouted at him or complained straight to his face about the promises he made to them, incomplete projects or downright theft of their resources.
Normally, it is elected leaders who raise such issues but they were not allowed to speak during the tour to avoid war of words by between rivals.
Leaders have warned that the perception that the government is concentrating in other swing regions and neglecting projects in Central, if left to fester, could stoke either apathy or indifference in casting of votes.
“There is no bias against Central or any other region when it comes to incomplete projects. That is nonsense,” said President Kenyatta when the Nation asked him about the issue during a press conference at Sagana State Lodge.
In the 12 counties that the President visited in the past week, residents mainly confronted him on three issues; roads, water and markets.
And they did it in dramatic fashion. In Karatina, the President was on a voters’ mobilisation campaign when traders interrupted his closing speech.
“Soko, soko, soko. Tunataka kuskia mambo ya soko pia (We want also to be told about the market),” they shouted.
President Kenyatta assured its speedy completion.
“I will take up the matter personally and see to it that the market is complete so that you can move in and expand your businesses,” he promised.
But for Mercy Wambui, a trader at the market, it has been a seven-year wait for the completion of what was once the biggest market in East and Central Africa.
When completed, the five-storey market was supposed to offer cold storage facilities and comfortable working conditions for traders.
She was kicked out of the market in 2010 to make way for its rehabilitation, her sales plummeted.
Few customers stop to buy from her stall since most dismiss her commodities as unclean owing to the unhygienic conditions.
“Harufu ya choo hapa inafanya customers watoroke (The stench from the temporary toilet drives away customers,” said Ms Wambui.
Karatina is an example of how incompetence, graft and intrigues have blocked projects.
At the onset, the market was projected to cost Sh268 million, but a further review of the project by the contractor pushed the cost to Sh367 million.
That contract with Uchumi International Limited was then terminated without the firm doing the job.
The national government injected another Sh178 million towards its completion with a new contractor, Highpoint Agencies, on sight but the scope of the work done since then is negligible.
The Head of State got another rap in Murang’a over the 47km Mathioya-Mioro Road.
Despite the contractor receiving Sh2.4 billion, the company has only tarmacked less than 3km, which has taken him four years.
“The contractor should finish the work or the tender be cancelled,” he said.
In Kirinyaga, the President was also put on the spot in Mwea over the stalling of the Sh20 billion dam, which was supposed to boost rice farming in the irrigation scheme.
Farmers are currently facing a water crisis that has nearly halved production and wiped out investments worth millions.
“Maai, maai (water, water)” they shouted to the President at Ngurubani town and Kathigiriri during his stopovers.
But the President passed the buck. He observed that the construction of the mega project could not kick off because of infighting by the county’s leaders.
“Were it not for the wrangling by leaders, this project would have taken off long time ago,” Mr Kenyatta defended the government.
“The money to fund the project was released long time ago but due to wrangles, nothing has been done,” he added.
He said even his predecessor, Mr Mwai Kibaki, whose government allocated the money was concerned.
“Mr Kibaki keeps on asking me when will this dam start,” he told the residents.
In Tharaka Nithi on Thursday, President Kenyatta was forced to spell out his government’s development agenda after locals shouted their demands.
At Ciakariga, the locals demanded that the President addresses water scarcity in the region and building of a university campus.
They were also concerned over delays in the tarmacking of Ciakariga-Marimanti-Gatunga-Ura Park.
A visibly angry President Kenyatta ordered the contractor to start works within a month.
He promised to return to the county to inspect the road and launch other development projects.
He also stated that Kathwana is the Tharaka-Nithi County headquarters following a row that had divided local leaders and ate into Jubilee administration’s support.
Mr Kenyatta added that government had promoted education in Tharaka constituency by building a campus of Chuka University and Marimanti Technical Institute at a cost of Sh70 million.
In Samburu, he was asked to build a university and dams.
Local leaders, however, noted there was nothing unusual with residents’ demand as people always raise concerns when the President visits any place.
Reported by Grace Gitau, George Munene, Boniface Mwangi, David Muchui and Lucas Barasa