Recover all looted project cash, compensate locals

What you need to know:

  • On paper, they were promising projects designed as multi-purpose schemes.
  • In reality, they became conduits for siphoning public money.
  • Beyond the direct losses, the phony projects create monumental environmental and economic hazards.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck early in the year, the country was embroiled in furious discussions about dam scandals. Billions of shillings had been sunk in phantom projects in the names of dams, among them Itare in Nakuru County and Kimwarer and Arror in Elgeyo Marakwet. Cumulatively, the construction of the dams was going to cost the taxpayers nearly Sh100 billion.

However, all these became non-starters. On paper, they were promising projects designed as multi-purpose schemes to provide water for domestic use and irrigation to boost food production, among others. In reality, they became conduits for siphoning public money.

When it emerged that the government had been conned in the deals, the security agencies descended on individuals suspected to have engineered or approved dubious payments for the schemes. The bigwigs caught in the muddle included a Cabinet secretary and a principal secretary, who were charged in court and their cases are pending conclusion.

Beyond the direct losses, the phony projects create monumental environmental and economic hazards. A case in point is the Itare Dam, in Nakuru County, which we reported about this week, where the contractor, CMC di Ravenna, pulled out after failing to complete the project despite having received huge payments for the job.

It is extremely painful that the company, which has since filed for bankruptcy in Italy, bolted without doing much, leaving behind deep excavations and precarious gorges that threaten local residents. Adjacent farmlands are ruined and cannot be used productively. Indeed, it is a case of double jeopardy.

This raises pertinent questions: What is the government doing to recover the lost money and resume the works? Which mechanisms are in place to insulate communities when mega projects flop midstream? The government should audit stalled projects, recover any cash paid out and have the communities completed. Importantly, the court cases should be expedited and those who stole projects’ cash punished.