A vital “must read” from the Daily Nation confirms that in spite of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s promise to release the contracts for the truncated Standard Gauge Railroad project, the Government of Kenya has been withholding the documents concerned about meeting public records obligations. It is said that Kenya signed the undertakings with Chinese state-owned corporations rather than the Chinese State as such, and that the documents include secrecy provisions that the lawyers are interpreting to conflict with Kenyan law as to the Governments obligations to its own citizens for public contracting.
The story details item after item of hugely inflated prices for components such as generators, supplies, machinery and equipment:
This explains how Kenya ended up paying two times more for a diesel train than what Tanzania negotiated for an electric train. A comparison of the costs shows that Tanzania is building an electric rail at half the price of Kenya’s diesel SGR line.
At $1.92 billion, which translates to about Sh192 billion at current exchange rates, for the 422 kilometres, Tanzania’s line is not just cheaper; being electric, it’s designed to support a maximum speed of 160km/hour for passenger trains and 120km/hour for freight.
This pales in comparison to Kenya’s line, whose passenger trains have a maximum speed of 120km/hour with freight hauliers doing 80km/hour at best.
Kenya opted for diesel-powered engine that can be upgraded into electric in future.
It is the results of this greed and negligence that taxpayers are now paying for.
Currently, the revenues generated from the passenger and cargo services on the track cannot meet the operation costs, estimated at Sh1.5 billion a month against average sales of only Sh841 million.
Meanwhile, Kenyans transporters who have allegedly been hurt by Kenyan restrictions intended to forcibly subsidize the non-competitive costs of the Chinese-operated SGR, are seeking the contracts in court. Likewise, the civil society coalition Okoa Mombasa has filed a formal records request as a precursor to a suit if the documents continue to be withheld.
Readers may remember previous reporting of a leaked Auditor General documents indicating that Chinese firms may have been given a security interest in Kenya Port Authority assets and property to secure the loans for these inflated costs. From Maritime Executive in December 2018:
Kenya runs the risk of losing control of the Port of Mombasa if it should default on loans from state financial institution China Exim Bank, according to a new report from Kenya’s auditor general. The terms of a $2.3 billion loan for Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) specify that the port’s assets are collateral, and they are not protected by Kenya’s sovereign immunity due to a waiver in the contract.
KRC accepted the multi-billion-dollar loan in order to build the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR), with construction services provided by China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC), a division of state-owned conglomerate China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
“The payment arrangement agreement substantively means that the Authority’s revenue would be used to pay the Government of Kenya’s debt to China Exim bank if the minimum volumes required for [rail] consignment are not met,” auditor F.T. Kimani wrote. “The China Exim bank would become a principle over KPA if KRC defaults in its obligations.”
In addition, any dispute with China Exim Bank would be handled through an arbitration process in China, not in Kenyan courts. The auditor general expressed concern that the port authority had not disclosed these arrangements in its financial statements.
The Auditor General’s term expired before publication of a final report and has been left vacant, conveniently for freedom of action and ability to avoid disclosure by Kenya’s political officials.
The more information that comes to light the more it would appear that the uneconomical nature of the “white elephant” megaproject was baked in from early stages and does not look to be readily resolvable without exterior finance, renegotiation, write down or other intervention.
Meanwhile, The Star covers a report by the Tax Justice Network that Kenya’s financial sector is well designed to hide corruption as the second most secretive in Africa:
Kenya’s financial sector is the among most secretive globally, according to a new report by Tax Justice Network.
The sector has been ranked the second most rigid in Africa after Algeria and among the top 30 in the world in the latest Financial Secrecy Index of 2020.
The annual index by Tax Justice Network (TJN) has scored Kenya’s secrecy rate at 76 per cent, meaning the country is a fertile market to stash ill-gotten private financial wealth and other illicit financial flows (IFFs).