An engineer and three contractors were on Wednesday arrested by police over the stalled Sh.1.2 billion road project launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Machakos County over three years ago.
The three, Eng. Esther Mwangi of Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA) who is supervising the government-funded Ekalakala-Matuu road project, and contractors, Zebedeo Opore, Simon Kaingo and Richard Ombati were whisked away by Machakos Police led by the County Commander, John Karanja from the project’s site offices where they were meeting with the Machakos County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee (CDICC).
The three are key players in the yet-to-start tarmacking of the 40 kilometre road that branches off Garissa-Thika road and runs across Yatta and Masinga constituencies.
In July 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto launched the project, dubbed the Upgrading to bitumen standard and maintenance of Matuu-Ekalakala-Kakuku and Junction A3 Katulani-Junction C439.
The arrested quartet was taken to Matuu Police station to record a statement on the circumstances under which the main contractor, Kitho Civil and Engineering started and abandoned works on the road, before engaging the other two sub-contractors, namely M/s. Zedjay investments Limited and Tekwara Services Limited.
Before their arrest, Kaingo the main contractor had a difficult time trying to explain to the committee how he landed the expensive tender despite lacking capacity to accomplish the project.
The committee which was formed through a Presidential Executive order is chaired by the Machakos County Commissioner (CC), Esther Maina. Its secretary is Larry Mulomi, a director of the President’s Delivery Unit (PDU).
It is mandated to supervise and oversee all National Government projects in the county.
Kaingo could neither explain why the tarmacking of the 40 kilometre road which was started on July 21, 2017 was abandoned soon after, yet he had received over Sh.100 million in advance payment from the government.
An inspection tour of the project by the Committee which was accompanied by two senior directors from PDU headquarters, Francis Ngatia in charge of Eastern and Coast regions and his Rift Valley and Northern Kenya regional counterpart, Truphosa Awuor revealed the shoddy work which has been undertaken on the road.
Some sections which had earlier been graded were impassable as they were overgrown with grass and shrubs, forcing motorists to use diversions.
It was obvious works were started and forsaken mid-way, a situation the main contractor blamed on financial challenges.
A few sections of the stretch which have been given to the two sub-contractors had indications of recent clearance of shrubs and grading works although the earthmovers were idling along the dusty project.
According to Eng. Mwangi, the two sub-contractors started work on the July 3, 2019.
“Due to financial challenges, the main contractor M/s. Kitho Civil and Engineering Company Limited requested to sub-contract some sections of the works to M/s. Zedjay investments limited and M/s. Tekwara Services limited who were approved on May 28, 2019,” she told the committee.
She was however, unable to explain why the vital project tender was awarded to a financially incapacitated bidder.
The committee could not believe her explanation and that of the contractors that the project would be completed within the stipulated time which is in February next year.
It was also established that the contractors were working without a programme of works.
The committee directed the contractors to come up with the programme that guides the execution of tasks in the next two weeks or face dire consequences including the possibility of having their contract terminated.
Eng. Mwangi was also instructed to be monitoring the daily progress of the works and report any delays to the committee.
Eng. Mwangi on her part had earlier told the committee that she had done all what is required of her, including updating her headquarters on the reality on the ground.
She had explained to the members the rigours of having the contract terminated; pointing out that the contractors could go to court and complicate the completion of the project further, among other claims.
Speaking after the arrest, Ms. Maina warned contractors and civil servants supervising their projects that the government will not tolerate any laxity or ineptitude on their part.
“If you have a project and you are joking with it we will hand you over to police for action” she warned.
She particularly took issue with contracts undertaken by KeRRA in the county saying that they all had some problems.
“We are having a problem with most of the contractors KeRRA is awarding tenders to in this County” Ms Maina said, noting that recently another KeRRA-funded project had to be cancelled in Kangundo sub-county due to the inability of the contractor to execute it.
On his part, Ngatia told the committee to be thorough in its work and take all necessary actions against any failing contractor instead of waiting for Nairobi to intervene.
“You must be on top of things since we don’t have time or resources to waste”, he said.