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Controversy grips road upgrade project

16 April 2013, 17:47 Maria Macharia

Nairobi -  Plans are underway for a massive overhaul of the road network crossing into Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan; although they could be scuttled if authorities fail to move quickly to handle a widening controversy over construction jobs.
The Kenya government is at the heart of the controversy after it set up a state corporation to steer the implementation of the US$22 billion transport and infrastructure project in “unclear circumstances”.

The Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport Development (LAPSSET) Authority was set up to manage the multi-billion dollar project and also lobby for private partnerships to implement the regional project.

But industry stakeholders have claimed the formation of the new authority and award of a port construction tender to a Chinese firm were done in controversial circumstances.

Former President Mwai Kibaki announced the formation of the new authority through a special gazette notice.

They argue the Kenya Airports Authority should be allowed to oversee the project to avoid conflict and unnecessary bureaucracy.

LAPSSET entails the construction of a new port at Manda Bay along Kenya’s coast, standard gauge railway lines to Juba and a highway from Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia, oil pipeline, international airports and resort cities at Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana.

It also involves building a merchant oil refinery ,several roads, high grand falls multipurpose power generation dam, water supply lines, power supply lines and fibre optic cable and communications systems.

Abdalla Fadhil, chairman of the Lamu Port Steering Committee, claims the formation of the authority and the KES 41 billion (US$489 million) contract for building three berths at Lamu were done in haste, as the local communities were not consulted.

“Before the contract moves to the ground, we demand full disclosure of information about the construction of the port and get representation in the new authority. We also demand compensation for local land owners and to be fully engaged by the government,” Fadhil said.

indian ocean, mombasa, boats

Noting that the residents’ committee has not received any letter on the new authority or the port contractor, Fadhili called on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration to change the terms of engagement with locals to ensure regular flow of information.

A maritime expert with Ultimate Maritime Consultants Stanley Chai called for more input of professional maritime experts in the development of Lamuport to avoid conflict that will slow the project.

“The project is almost laughable to say the least. I have also seen the announcement of the setup of the new authority. What baffles us in the Maritime world is why two authorities in single country to manage similar entities,” he noted.

But another maritime expert Silvester Kututa welcomed the formation of a new parastatal, saying it would focus on a specific task of developing projects under the entire project there.

“In my opinion, LAPSSET authority is a good thing. It will focus on a specific task,” said Kututa, who is managing director of the Express Shipping Logistics East Africa and a director at Kenya Maritime Authority.

Contacted for comment, Kenya Transport ministry officials said Permanent Secretary Cyrus Njiru would issue a statement on the concerns later this week.

– CAJ News

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