The construction of the standard gauge railway will go on despite opposition, President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday told a press conference attended by nearly all Cabinet Secretaries at State House, Nairobi.
The decision to invite all the Cabinet Secretaries and the Deputy President to the press conference was seen as a move to rally the entire government behind the project.
“The standard gauge railway project must and will go ahead for us to achieve our developmental agenda,” he said. “The railway is transformative. It is the single biggest investment in our economy in 50 years; and the single biggest investment in East Africa in decades.”
However, the Head of State emphasised that the project should be “as transparent and as open as possible”.
Its critics have in the past questioned its tendering process, viability and cost.
STEEPED IN CORRUPTION
Jubilee MP Alfred Keter has said that the project was shrouded in corruption. Last week, Mr Keter testified before the Public Investments Committee where he claimed that the World Bank had blacklisted the Chinese company awarded the tender.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula has also described the project as a major scandal.
And on Sunday, civil society activists John Githongo and PLO Lumumba wrote an open letter to Mr Kenyatta asking him to suspend the railway project until all questions that had been raised over the tender were answered.
But yesterday, the President defended the project, saying the tendering was above board and that those with any information on any anomaly should report to him or Parliament or any other government agency.
“Let me ask all those with information on any aspects they feel are questionable to go to Parliament and testify. Give evidence. Or come to me, tell me where the problem is. We are open to resolving any conflicts in this matter,” he said. “There comes an hour when the noise must stop, and the work must begin. We are at that hour.”
He accused commercial interest groups who lost the tender of opposing the project.
“If you lose a bid, move on but don’t stop our transformative agenda,” Mr Kenyatta said and denied that the cost of the project had been exaggerated compared to those in other countries.
He said Exim Bank of China will provide a commercial loan of $1.6 billion and a concessional one of $1.63 billion for the development of phase I of the project covering 609 kilometres from Mombasa to Nairobi.
The total $3.23 billion for phase I, he said, equalled 20 per cent of China’s total portfolio in Africa and “says much of what investors think of our country.”
He said his government had also established a Railway Development Fund supported by a levy of 1.5 per cent imposed on all imports.
The President said the project was initiated six years ago but topped the agenda during his visit to China last year because it had the potential to improve the economy and the welfare of Kenyans.
Enumerating the benefits of the project, the President said the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi, and later Malaba, Kampala, Kigali and Bujumbura would help in exploitation of the country’s minerals and hydrocarbons and open trade in East and Central Africa.
“The standard gauge railway will reduce the cost of doing business in the region and make the region far more competitive for investment,” he said.
If completed, he said, it will reduce freight transportation tariff charges from the current $0.20 per tonne per kilometre to about $0.083 and further reduce transit time for goods from 30 hours to eight besides reducing damage to roads.
SUBJECT OF INVESTIGATION
The project is also a core element of Kenya’s efforts to be a middle-income industrialised nation by 2030. “I, for one, believe that the delivery of that Vision 2030 can be brought forward a full decade, if we implement our infrastructure development agenda within the tight time-frames we have set for ourselves,” he said.
Already, Kenya Railways and the China Road and Bridge Corporation have undertaken the feasibility study and preliminary design of Phase 1 of the project.
The President launched the construction of the project in December last year but the contract is the subject of investigation by two committees of Parliament.
Yesterday, he said that the economic progress in the country was often threatened by conflicts sparked by commercial interest groups.
“Conflict, of necessity, commands attention and absorbs us. But as our forefathers say, we must tackle this hostile ideology whose character is ruthless, and method insidious,” he said.
He said MPs, businessmen and the civil society should also put the interests of Kenyans first and avoid partisanship.
Attorney-General Githu Muigai denied expressing reservations on the project, saying an opinion he had given had been quoted out of context by some news outlets who had since apologised.