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Turf wars between national and county government derails lighting project

Lodwar  town residents depend on solar powered street lights after national government installed street lights were switched off due to a power bills dispute between the national and county governments. Photo by Peter Gitonga/KNA.

Street  lighting is one of the key enablers for achieving a 24-hour economy. The ambitious lighting project has been hailed as a success in cities such as Mombasa where it has enabled traders to conduct their businesses at night and helped improve security at the coastal city.

This  same narrative cannot be said of Lodwar, the County headquarters for Turkana.

Whereas the National Government worked to install streetlights to boost security and enable traders and tourists to walk freely at night, the project has faced challenges as the national and county governments trade accusations as to who should foot the electricity bill for the project.

On its part, the county government has adamantly refused to pick up the lighting bill contending she was not consulted at the inception of the project.

Failure  to settle the bills saw Kenya Power Company disconnect power for the street lights in Lodwar leaving residents in the dark.

Interestingly, the power is usually switched on during the annual cultural and tourism festival dubbed ‘Tobong’u-lore’ with a commitment by the county government to pay the bills.

“The county government normally pays for the power bills incurred during the cultural festival without fail,” a Kenya Power officer who did not wish to be named said.

The festival runs for three days and the latest event was held from August 14 to 17 last year.

Last  year, the County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee (CDICC) Chaired by County Commissioner (CC), Muthama Wambua tasked a representative of Kenya Power company to engage the Ministry of Lands and Urban Planning with a view to resolving the issue.

The  CDICC is the government committee mandated to oversee the national government projects in the county to ensure quality services are delivered to the citizens.

According to James Ekaru, a resident, the county and national government should move with speed to address the bill payments to enable the residents enjoy lighting at night.

“It makes little sense to open up roads in Lodwar town and fail to provide lighting at night,” said Ekaru.

The county government has in the last two years demolished structures and buildings that were erected along road reserves in Lodwar despite an outcry from the owners of the buildings to pave way for road expansion.

Another resident, Mike Etabo, said thugs have been hiding along the dark corridors waiting to pounce on innocent civilians who arrive in the town late at night from various destinations.

“The street lights would really help boost security of the town. We urge the government to do something to address the plight of traders who close their businesses late in the night,” he said.

In 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a Sh.7.6 billion Street lighting project in Mombasa that would extend to 47 counties.

Speaking  during the launch of the National Public Lighting Project, President Kenyatta said that 24,485 lights had been installed in various counties at a cost of Sh. 2.5 billion.

It is ironical that while residents of other towns are longing for the day when their streets will be connected with power, in Lodwar, squabbles over power bills have denied the residents the lights despite the heavy investment in installing the lights.

The residents depend on few solar powered street lights which are not adequate with some already damaged.

By  Peter  Gitonga

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