Technocrats torn between the devil and the deep blue sea

County Development Information Coordination Committee Editor's Pick Features News Technology Tharaka Nithi
The Tharaka Nithi CDICC team  on  a  site  visit to  a  road  under  construction. Photo by KNA.
The Gullies at  the Kanthanje Water  Pan that has raised concerns from technocrats in Tharaka Nithi. Photo by KNA.

All  water and most bitumen road ventures are long-term projects and before the actual mobilization of resources to the site that can be seen by the layman, there are a myriad of clandestine but necessary procedures that need to be followed.

As they say, the shortest route is not always the quickest and hurried efforts to achieve the end without properly following the due process have in the long run backfired into devastating calamities.

The perennial water crises in many arid lands across Kenya and in particular, Tharaka Constituency, has been hitting headlines and discussions on the need to address it coming up in many forums, yet no viable solution has been achieved.

Government agencies concerned raise up the issues, but apart from blame games, nothing of value comes out of the forums, most of which cease operations as soon as the rains come and the tide shifts from water shortages to property destruction and drowning in floods.

Roads too are in bad state, especially during the rainy seasons and upcoming politicians always take this opportunity to smear mud on the sitting ones, only to get elected and end up making hardly any impact until the next general elections.

They are either ignorant to road construction procedures or deliberately mislead the electorate for them to win the seats.

The National Government has allocated over Sh.20 billion in projects in Tharaka Nithi County alone, but due to initial cumbersome but necessary phases, many of them are far from where they can be appreciated by a layman and in this case the residents of the County.

Just like eggs, larvae or pupa which are the second stage in the metamorphosis of butterflies, they are given completely different names by those who have not studied elementary biology, there is no project until the contractors mobilize the equipment to site.

Butterflies always fly to the same direction and those who are not knowledgeably may wonder when they fly back, not knowing that there are others in the prior stages of metamorphosis that continue reaching the adult stage on diverse minutes, days and hours.

Same with water and roads projects. Before pipes start to be laid or even the initial site clearance starts there are the environmental and feasibility studies that are carried out by a completely independent agencies from those who will be contracted to implement the projects. Then the design as a requirement before the contractor can claim any payment from the employer.

Save for Low Volume Sealed Roads (LVSR) projects whose contractors are facing bottlenecks in the mode of payment by the employer, many other projects, especially irrigation projects may, appear to have stalled even before they kicked-off because of the surreptitious but essential measures that various government agencies are tasked to enforce.

To a layman, these are mere formalities to slow the implementation of government projects.

Suffice it that, it is the same government that has established these organizations headed by technocrats to ensure only feasible projects are allocated the taxpayers funds and private undertakings do not endanger Mwananchi or tamper with existing ecosystems.

The major players on road and water projects are the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA). They are headed by technocrats at the regional and county levels.

In a bid to please the electorate many politicians have used all forms of unorthodox means to intimidate the technocrats who are mainly the regional or county directors of the above named government agencies to push their way into starting projects that are not feasible in the eyes of experts.

They at times evade clearance certificates from the agencies or in the worst scenario intimidate the directors into closing their eyes and issuing them against their better judgement.

This is where, the technocrats find themselves torn between the devil and the deep blue sea.

They could lose their job or be ‘exiled to Siberia’ for defying orders from above but the backlash falls on them should they approve a project that later turns into a ‘white elephant’ or in a worse scenario turns catastrophic like the Solai dam in Nakuru.

But what are they expected to do when no environmental feasibility study has been done and the fatal project is said to be complete and paid for by the employer?

This is a challenge that is facing the Tharaka Nithi NEMA and the WARMA Eastern Region directors.

The  County Ecosystems Conservator, John Mburu  also expressed some concerns on the repercussions of hurried skipping of the furtive but crucial measures.

A case in point is the controversial Kanthanje Water Pan where Sh. 19 million was sunk into a project that is not giving any value to the community.

The Tharaka-Nithi County NEMA Director, Joseph Kamau said before building of the dam, an environmental impact assessment was not done and he has recommended for a fresh start, unfortunately the faulty project is fully paid for thanks to negligence on the part of the National Irrigation Board that skipped the crucial measure.

The  WARMA area Sub-regional Manager, Ms. Jacqueline Mboroki said had the environmental impact assessment been made, all the possible loopholes in the water pan would have been avoided hence the need for all correct documents to be availed before a project kicks off.

In an earlier forum, Mboroki had said that illegal water intakes in the Meru and Tharaka Nithi sections of the Mt. Kenya Forest are responsible for the drying up of perennial rivers, especially in Tharaka Constituency and undertook to dismantle them.

Ms. Mboroki said irrigation water should come from flood-flows but many community based water project officials fail to apply for their water intake permits and procure smart water meters hence interfering with the normal flow of rivers.

Now, what are these bottlenecks facing most LVSR projects in Tharaka Nithi?

According to Daniel Muriuki from the Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA), contractors are paid per milestones that are fully complete.

This according to him can only be effective with contractors with heavy financial capacity, because mobilizing all the machinery to complete only one milestone is not practical.

“The contractors mobilize their machinery simultaneously for site clearance, earthworks, pavement construction, drainage and protection works, construction of major drainage structures and other ancillary works to the main works but due to contractual terms only the complete milestone is paid for,” elaborated Muriuki, reinstating that this requires a firm with heavy financial resources.

He said to complete the milestone without utilizing their machinery in other sections of the road would be uneconomical since most would be lying idle yet they cost huge sums of money.

In few words, they will suffer losses from economies of scale. On top of the initial cumbersome but necessary phases, the bottlenecks in mode of payment make many projects seem far from where they can be appreciated by the residents of the county.

Going to my elementary biology in high school, the eggs, larvae or pupa cannot be related to butterflies.

By  David  Mutwiri

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