A Kenyan activist has derailed Kenya’s largest railroad construction project since 1901. The activist, Okiah Omtatah, has accused Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta of violating numerous laws that govern the awarding of government contracts. Omtatah is appealing to Kenya’s chief justice to appoint a five judge panel to hear his objections, as reported in WorldBulletin.
Contract Awarded to a Corrupt Company
The multi-billion dollar railroad contract was awarded to a Chinese company that Omtatah alleges has no experience in building railways. The Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation is known chiefly for constructing roads and bridges. However, their inexperience in building railways does not form the primary basis for Omtatah’s case.
Omtatah alleges that the Chinese company has previously run afoul of international banking laws. “The Kenyan government did not issue a tender,” Omtatah said in a WorldBulletin interview. “It picked the Chinese company which was in January 2009 blacklisted and banned from undertaking future contracts by the World Bank for alleged corrupt deals derived from bid-rigging in the Philippines.”
Omtatah also contends that the government did no independent evaluation of the company. In addition, China Road itself carried out the feasibility study of the project. Finally, the contractor was single-sourced by the government which is a violation of Kenyan law.
Lunatic Express Falling Apart
The 609-kilometer railway is designed to replace the old, rumbling “Lunatic Express” that was completed in 1901 by colonial England. That 483-kilometer railway runs from Mombasa to Nairobi, and the journey takes about 12 hours to complete for passengers. Freight moved along the “Lunatic Express” takes about 36 hours. The passenger cars are dilapidated and antique in every manner. Large sections of the track have fallen into disrepair and can’t be used.
Last November, President Kenyatta laid the foundation stone for the construction of the new standard gauge railway line. The beaming president told Kenyans that this railway line would define his presidency and transform the entire eastern African region. The new railway is expected to reduce passenger travel between Mombasa and Nairobi to four hours, with freight moving the distance in under eight hours.
New Railway Would Grow the Kenyan Economy
It’s believed that the railway would benefit the entire region because the cost and time to move freight will be significantly reduced. The line is also expected to benefit the country by increased construction and industrialization along the railway. Future plans call for linking the Kenya railway to other African cities in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
The Chinese government, which is funding the initial construction with a $5.2 billion loan, expects that the railway will provide the impetus for an annual 1.5 percent GDP growth in Kenya and create 10,000 jobs (much like these). The railway has a completion date of 2017.
Meanwhile, Omtatah is not alone in criticizing the Chinese railway construction deal. Kenyan MPs have joined the activist, complaining that the tendering process was flawed and that the project will become a burden on Kenyan taxpayers. Omtatah insists that the entire deal is irretrievably broken because Kenyan law prohibits the government from business deals with companies that are corrupt.