On a sullen Monday morning of November 2021, a small crowd of government officials gathered at the cold Dawson Mwanyumba stadium in Wundanyi sub-county.
They had come to receive top ranking Ministry of Transport officials for launch of construction works for 54-km Mto Mwagodi-Dawida-Mbale-Wundanyi-Bura road; a Sh2.08 billion project regarded as the most capital-intensive road project by the Jubilee government in the region.
This project has special significance to thousands of local residents in Wundanyi, as it would be the only major tarmacked road in the entire constituency. The contractor, MS Stecol Corporation, was to complete the works by 13th September 2024.
“The only stretch of tarmac in Wundanyi was done in the 80’s. This road will be the first tarmac one most people from this constituency will see being built,” said Danson Mwashako, Wundanyi MP.
The road traverses through Mwatate and Wundanyi constituencies. However, 43km of the total length falls in Wundanyi constituency, while the remaining 11km are in Mwatate.
The presence of Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Transport James Macharia, his Principal Secretary Prof. Paul Maringa and Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA) Ag. Director General Philemon Kandie amongst other elected leaders during this launch was a pointer to the keen interest the government had to see the project completed.
That was almost seven months ago. Unfortunately, little progress has been made since the road was launched. The lack of activities has raised anxiety amongst local residents who are fearful of the fate of this critical project.
As of April 2022, the overall physical progress works were at a paltry1.11 percent. KeRRA’s progress brief reports that only minor site clearance and top soil striping has been done.
The report further notes the contractor suspended all construction activities and abandoned the site on 31st January 2022 due to delay in receiving advance payment. The contractor was demanding for sh. 208.1 million that was the amount certified to date.
Last month, members of the County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee were welcomed by closed gates at the contractor’s main site near Mto Mwagodi area. There was no explanation on where the contractor was. The County Commissioner Lyford Kibaara directed KeRRA officials to engage the contractor to establish the status of the project.
Looming large over this project are memories of other mega projects that have stalled for years owing to funding challenges or lack of commitment by contractors in hope of seeking completion deadlines.
Key amongst them is the Bachuma Livestock Export Processing Zone that has gobbled hundreds of millions of shillings since 2015 and has not taken off.
This is a situation that the government is keen to avoid. During a recent meeting held on 8th March between KeRRA and the contractor, the latter pledged to mobilize his equipment and resume work.
Mr. Shem Omari, KeRRA deputy boss in the region, said the contractor had indicated willingness to resume the construction works following disbursement of sh98 million from government. This represents 4.7 percent of the contract sum.
“The contractor confirmed receiving sh. 98 million. He is willing to resume work,” said the official. Mr. Omari was giving a progress report on the project during a CDICC meeting on Tuesday in Mwatate. While this pledge was given, KeRRA says it is closely following the contractor to make sure he keeps his word.
The anticipated resumption of works has been met with muted excitement by local residents. They are optimistic the process will continue without stopping.
Martha Mbongoli, a farmer at Bura village, said farmers were hopeful the project would resume because of the multiple benefits it promised to the region. She pointed out that apart from creating employment opportunities for the youth, the project would also provide them with a market for raw materials.
“We have sand harvesting and ballasts. Once the road comes, we can make some money from selling the products to them,” she said.
Loice Shuma, a Director from Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU), spoke of the need to fast-track construction works stating that the road was the key to unlock the economic potential in Mwatate and Wundanyi.
“The will serve farmers and boost the economic fortunes of this region. The contractor needs to be on the ground working,” she said.
The 54-km road is under the 10,000km Low Volume Seal (LVS) roads program. The delays have also spawned a number of challenges that are likely to become a headache for government and local residents.
The heavy rains that have been pounding the region have destroyed parts of the road with residents complaining that other parts were also deteriorating.
KeRRA officials say the situation is precarious because the road agency cannot allocate maintenance money for a road already contracted to an independent contractor.
“We used to do annual maintenance activities, but with the contract now awarded, we cannot allocate money for such an exercise without raising an audit query,” they said.
By Wagema Mwangi