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Community land row threatens Sh.400m solar power project

Construction  of  a Sh.400 million solar power project by the government in collaboration with the World Bank (WB) on Wasini Island, Kwale County, hangs in the balance as locals and the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) tussle over the proposed site of the project.

The  REA Kwale county manager,  Henry  Nyapara  said the project falls under the Off-grid Solar Access Project (OSPAC) for underserved counties and added that a contract has already been awarded but construction work has not commenced owing to the dispute over the site.

The  WB  is undertaking the project in 14 counties at a cost of Sh.1.5 billion to enable marginalised communities to access modern energy services.

Nyapara  said Kwale risks missing out on the project which is nearing the phase out stage if the stalemate on the site is not resolved quickly.

“Work  on the project has become a mirage and the county might end up losing the funding unless the targeted beneficiaries soften their hard-line stand on the land set aside for the project,” he said, noting locals were reluctant to release a two-acre community land parcel for the purpose of issuing a title deed as a condition from the bank for the funding.

The site is part of 10 acres of community land and locals are adamant that they will accept the project only if they are allowed to continue owning the land contrary to the bank’s requirement that all the sites are issued with individual title deeds to qualify for funding.

“The donor is likely to pull out of the project if locals  continue insisting on holding onto the land and this will be too unfortunate for they will lose a chance of a lifetime to access electricity,” said  Nyapara, adding that negotiations to end the impasse have seemingly failed to yield much progress.

Wasini Island in the Indian Ocean is sparsely populated and underdeveloped hence it is not connected to the national power grid and the project would be a game changer in terms of spurring its development.

However, Lunga Lunga Deputy County Commissioner,  Josephat  Biwott  said the government will do everything possible to ensure the project is successfully implemented for the benefit of the islanders who mainly rely on fishing and tourism.

He said REA and the county government have been using the wrong approach in trying to win over the locals leading to their resistance to the project.

“The authority is partly to blame for the crisis as it had not involved all relevant stakeholders, including the local national government administration officers,” he said.

“There is no way the government is going to sit back and watch such an important project fail to materialise. I have taken over the negotiations and scheduled a meeting for Thursday to try to unlock the stalemate with a view to finding an amicable solution that will see the project take off,” said Mr. Biwott on telephone.

By  James  Muchai

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