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Headache as Sh165 billion bills haunt Ruto’s administration

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Murkomen told the Senators it was high time the true state of the country's road situation was revealed in the spirit of the ongoing national conversation to resolve the challenge.

Various roads in the country are dilapidated, as the Ministry of Transport remains burdened with Sh165 billion worth of pending bills owed to road contractors.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport Kipchumba Murkomen said on Wednesday that in 2022, the Kenya Kwanza administration inherited a pending bill of Sh150 billion for road contracts across the country, a figure that has since risen by Sh15 billion.

"In March this year, I appraised this distinguished house about the situation at that time with regard to the development vote. I reported that the pending bills on various projects as of December 31, 2023, were Sh162.4 billion. The updated pending bills as of June 30, 2024, is Sh165 billion," he said.

"The consequences of the road project funding gap will have been well noted by Members of this House who are very well appraised of the status of road projects in their respective regions. Most projects funded under the development vote are progressing much slower than they ought to be and have significant payment arrears built up from the year 2020 or earlier," Murkomen added while appearing before the Senate on Wednesday during the weekly Question Time sessions.

Murkomen told the Senators it was high time the true state of the country's road situation was revealed in the spirit of the ongoing national conversation to resolve the challenge.

"For the last two years, this government has been accused of not communicating, and it is because we have tried to behave like an African father who does not want to tell his children the exact state of his pocket in the hope that, in the fullness of time, he will get something for the kids," he explained.

"Unfortunately, the impatience of your children can easily eat you because you have been trying to hide the truth of what it is," he added.

The Transport CS further told the Senators that roads would only be completed if the government made a one-off payment of the owed debts.

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen appears before the Senate on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, during the weekly Question Time sessions. (Photo: Kipchumba Murkomen)

"From a ministry perspective, unless the Treasury and Parliament, through the budget, make a drastic decision to make a one-off payment to the contractors, we will be lying to Kenyans that we will be able to complete these roads in time," Murkomen said.

The situation, according to the CS, has been made worse by the withdrawal of the Finance Bill 2024.

"While the now nullified Finance Bill 2024 has put in place substantive measures to begin to remedy the situation, that means we stagnate around here because the government needs to be able to plug in the Sh349 billion that is a gap, and to look for other resources to do this becomes a big challenge," Murkomen noted.

He pointed out that the Ministry was fully cognizant of the new realities and is working closely with the National Treasury to ensure that impactful budgetary allocations are retained going forward.

There has been an uproar among Kenyans in various sub-counties due to stalled road projects.

An audit conducted on government agencies as of June 30, 2023, revealed that over Sh4.9 billion was disbursed for selected projects, yet no tangible outcomes were achieved.

The actual amount could potentially be higher, especially considering several large-scale projects that have been flagged without clear expenditure records.

Like many stalled initiatives, Auditor General Nancy Gathungu has expressed concerns over substantial costs incurred through penalties and interest. One prominently flagged case involves the Kisumu Africities Convention Centre project, where a contractor received Sh250 million, but progress ceased since May 2022.

Initially scheduled for completion within 38 weeks starting July 16, 2021, with a revised deadline set for April 8, 2024, the Sh890 million convention complex faced delays due to payment issues.

By October 2023, the contractor had submitted a claim of Sh1.3 billion to the State Department for Public Works, citing losses and expenses resulting from work suspension since May 24, 2022.

Gathungu criticised the disbursement of Sh250 million to the contractor as irregular, questioning whether taxpayers received value for money.

Auditor General Nancy Gathungu addresses journalists during the official opening of the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E) Governing Board meeting in Kampala in May 2024. (Photo: Office of the Auditor General)Auditor General Nancy Gathungu addresses journalists during the official opening of the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E) Governing Board meeting in Kampala in May 2024. (Photo: Office of the Auditor General)

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