US embassy defends Sh300bn Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway amid corruption allegations

The United States embassy has once again defended the Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway project, saying the highway is an investment that won’t saddle Kenya with unsustainable debt.

In a press statement, Ambassador Kyle McCarter said, “the United States remains fully committed to the project and to fulfilling President [Donald] Trump and President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s shared pledge to make this critically needed road a reality”.

Contrary to recent press reports, he said, the project by “a world-class US company will provide the best-engineered solutions for Kenya’s infrastructure needs at a lower price than competitors and for far better value.”

“Furthermore, doing business with a US company helps combat corruption through the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” the US envoy added in the statement released on Friday.

On Tuesday, the Kenyan government through government spokesman Cyrus Oguna, dismissed claims the expressway was cancelled due to corruption.

Instead, Oguna blamed contractors for the fate of the project. He was speaking to a local radio station.

This is, however, not the first time the US embassy in defending the Sh300 billion 485km road contract awarded to Bechtel without competitive bidding.



US Ambassador Kyle McCarter / COURTSEY

In September 2017, soon after the August 8 General Election, the embassy said the expressway had been discussed for two years, and had been evaluated to ensure value for money.It also rejected claims by Kenyan media it was a “thank you” to the US for its political support of the re-election of President Kenyatta.

NASA, the Raila Odinga-led opposition coalition, accused US ambassador to Kenya at the time Robert Godec of predisposition towards the Jubilee government.

“Some of the [Western] envoys were involved in dubious deals, for instance, the single sourcing of the carriageway from Nairobi to Mombasa and overpriced military aircraft that was to be sold to KDF but was later thwarted by an American congressman,” Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang said in at A NASA press conference on February 2, 2018.

The government of Kenya has also defended the Bechtel deal.

Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Director-General Peter Mundinia on September 18 said Bechtel was selected because of its experience of handling large infrastructure projects “over 119 years”.

At the time, the embassy was responding to Kenya’s Financial Standard newspaper that questioned the manner in which the project was announced and quoted from a Ministry of Transport briefing, carried out before the contract award, which argued the project should be put out to tender as a public-private partnership.

The mega project whose groundbreaking was set for last year, before being pushed to January this year and later to June, is yet to kick-off, raising questions over its viability.

The Star in August, quoting insiders familiar with the project, reported that the Transport Ministry and KeNHA had inflated the cost by 66.7 per cent, from an estimated cost of $1.8billion (Sh185.7billion) to $3billion (Sh309.5billion).

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