Bunge Towers
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Bunge Tower of Babel: Uproar as MPs refuse to move into swanky multi-billion-shilling building

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Bunge Towers in Nairobi County in this picture taken on April 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

When Speaker Kenneth Marende approached President Mwai Kibaki in 2009 for a new office block for a soon-to-be expanded Parliament, his plan was to put up Bunge Tower at a cost of Sh5 billion.

As the chairperson of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), Mr Marende wanted new offices to accommodate the expected 349 MPs and 67 senators. The Grand Coalition government provided a budget for the 28-storey office block in 2010 and it was expected to be done by 2014.

 “I told Kibaki we needed Sh5 billion and he was shocked. It was in the presence of Ambassador Francis Muthaura. But I convinced him that the project was going to be his legacy,” said Mr Marende. “I said we needed a building that resonates with Kenya’s history. I recommended the design of a shield, because it’s one of our national symbols.”

The project has been dogged by controversy, ranging from delays in construction, cost variation and poor workmanship.

Built by China Jiangxi International Company, it was meant to cost Sh5.89 billion. The cost was, however, revised to Sh7.1 billion, with financial claims attracting Sh1.1 billion and Sh225.2 million in interest on delayed payments.

On Tuesday last week, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula announced the project was to be ready by the end of the week and MPs were to start moving in this week. At least 42 MPs are set to take up spaces in the office block in the first phase.

There’s, however, a problem. MPs say the offices are too small, poorly ventilated, have no natural lighting, and from the 21st floor, the phone network is erratic. They also say the lifts are slow and stall at times.

On Tuesday, Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda called for investigations over the expenditure on the project. Describing Bunge Tower as substandard, he said members of the PSC in the 11th and 12th Parliament should be persons of interests in the probe.

 “I am calling upon the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to launch a probe into the matter because this project seems like a major fraud. We also want documents about the building made public, including a certificate of completion,” said Mr Jhanda. “What we have is a substandard building, with non-functional lifts. It is a puzzle that taxpayers spent Sh9 billion.”

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei also faulted the works, demanding that PSC makes public the certificate of completion, as well as the Ministry of Health clearance on the safety of the building.

 “We have not been told what informed the variance in cost of over Sh3 billion,” said Mr Cherargei. He disclosed that members have expressed reservations about occupying a building that is still under construction.

Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka said many of his colleagues have raised issues with the standard of the building. “They are complaining that the offices are not being finished in a pristine way as was expected. The floor work is poor, the lighting system is not working, while many things have not been done according to the tender specifications. I don’t mind keeping my KICC office,” said Mr Onyonka.

Several MPs who spoke to Nation but did not want to be named said the building was just a cash cow for some people.

A first term MP from Nyanza said: “This thing is just a mess. The offices are too small, we are squeezed and there is no privacy.” An MP from Rift Valley told the Nation that he has not seen a building taking that long with disastrous outcomes.

When reached for comment on issues raised, Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye referred us to the PSC spokesperson. National Assembly Clerk Samuel Njoroge last week promised that PSC would hold a media briefing on the project. However, by the time of going to press, it had only invited the media for the planned official opening by President William Ruto on Friday. Efforts to get comments from some of the commissioners proved futile as they declined to comment.

Former Speaker Justin Muturi, however, attributed the rejection of the offices by some MPs to fear of losing money given to them to hire offices. “They don’t want to lose the rent money which is given to them (MPs) to hire offices,” said Mr Muturi, now the Attorney-General.