Monday, December 23, 2013

Publish the contract on the rail tender.

The construction of the Standard Gauge Railway from Mombasa to Malaba to Kampala is an undertaking that must be completed if Kenya is to retain its competitive edge as the leading economy in East and Central Africa. Allegations by the Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills, URP) and the Nairobi Law Monthly (Storm Over Rail Tender, December 2013), raise doubts that the construction of the new line will be in the interests of the nation and not just in the interests of the contractor and the carpetbaggers in its trail. The Transport Cabinet Secretary has attempted to elide the doubts raised by justifying the total cost of the proposed project in light of the multiple objectives and anticipated outcomes. He has hinted that the comparison between the Kenyan tender and the Ethiopia-Djibouti one are unfair given the number of moving parts in the Kenyan project.

This blogger would like to take the Cabinet Secretary's word for it. But the refusal by the contractor, the Transport Ministry or the Kenya Railways Corporation to publish the contract between the China Road and Bridge Corporation, the People's Republic of China and the Government of Kenya guarantees that the likes of Alfred Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly will continue to score points while the Jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta continues to lose credibility and, crucially, legitimacy. The fervent exhortations by the President and Deputy President that their government will fight corruption until it is vanquished rings hollow if they cannot effectively rebut allegations that their government is knee-deep in the muck.

Mr Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly do not accuse the President or the Deputy President of being personally involved in the allegations surrounding the rail tender, but given that ours is a presidential system, it is hard to see how the two could not be the ultimate target of the like of Mr Keter or the Nairobi Law Monthly.

It is an awkward position for the President and Deputy President to be in. The rail tender is a key plank for the Jubilee government's plans for the national economy. If the project founders because of the allegations of corruption, it will set back the economy of the nation. Indeed, it will give the nation's partners in the East African Community the much needed opportunity to take business away from Kenya.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have a constitutional solution that they have consistently ignored because of other considerations. Article 35(1)(a) states that "Everyone has the right to access information held by the State." For an government that is composed of holdovers from the Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki governments, it is near impossible to persuade these conservative mandarins that the voluntary disclosure of information is beneficial to the state of the nation than the reflexive classification any anmd all information that the government generates. This political storm is because elements in the National Executive did not do their jobs or, alternatively, wanted to make a little money on the side at teh expense of their jobs.

Mr Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly are not wrong to question whether the tender is lawful or not; it is the duty of a vigilant people to keep their government honest. Instead of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto being offended by the tough questions being raised or their swinging wildly at unnamed "brokers" and "fixers", they could do worse than to reveal the details of the contract and allow the people to see whether the contract is in the public interest or not. It is only in the bright light of the day that the people will discover whether the Jubilee government is walking the walk on the fight against corruption or it has perfected the art of sophistry.

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