MPs want deal mortgaging Mombasa port to China renegotiated

SGR passenger train being offloaded at the port of Mombasa

SGR passenger train being offloaded at the port of Mombasa in 2017. MPs now want a clause in the Sh364 billion SGR loan contract with China that attaches the port of Mombasa as collateral to be reviewed. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Members of Parliament now want a clause in the Sh364 billion standard gauge railway (SGR) loan contract with China that attaches the port of Mombasa as collateral to be reviewed. 

The National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee (PIC), in a report tabled before the House, says the loan agreement was skewed against the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and should be renegotiated.

The committee chaired by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir says the loan repayment agreement lists KPA and the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) as borrowers and, therefore, liable to repay the loan owed to China Exim Bank in case of default.

Kenya waived its immunity in the matter, meaning the country would surrender KPA assets, the main one being the port of Mombasa if it fails to repay.

“A reading of the agreement left no doubt that KPA and KRC were borrowers and liable to repay the loan through their assets without immunity. This put the assets of KPA at risk in the event of a default,” reads the report.

Renegotiate payment agreement

“The committee recommends that the National Treasury should renegotiate the entire payment arrangement agreement with a view to discharging KPA from the contract and replacing it with KRC,” the report says. KPA in its response said it does not have capacity to hold sovereign authority and therefore could not plead sovereign immunity.

“Only the Government of Kenya had such capacity. The clause could not be enforced against KPA. This was a mistake apparent on the face of the record,” KPA said. It added that it had no copies of the preferential credit loan agreement since it was not a party to the agreements.

More shocking is that the committee noted that the placement of KPA in the repayment of the loan was done without the approval of the board, parent ministry and the Cabinet. According to the report, the repayment of the loan agreement in clause 17.5 referred to KPA as the borrower, contrary to the details that KPA’s only obligation was to facilitate minimum freight volumes to meet the requirements of the long-term service agreement.

Free-market economy

“It was inconceivable that KPA could sign an agreement with KRC agreeing to provide a certain tonnage of goods for transport through the SGR and be held liable in the event of failure in a free-market economy where transporters were at liberty to use any mode of transport including road,” reads the report. In the event of failure by KRC to pay China Exim Bank collected freight and service charges, KPA would be compelled to deposit the amount due to KRC into a bank account designated by the bank.

Both KPA and KRC indicated to the committee that the required tonnage had not been met, thus forcing KPA to pay China Exim Bank through KRC.

The report, however, does not disclose the amount that has so far been paid by KPA to China. According to the report, the loan amount consisted of a preferential credit loan agreement of May 11, 2014 for Sh161.6 billion and a buyer credit loan agreement of the same date for Sh202.36 billion, all totalling Sh363.96 billion from China Exim bank.

Separate loans agreements

The committee, however, noted that the two loans had separate agreements which were not produced for audit review. In a shocking revelation contained in the report, both the KPA and KRC management claimed to have no access to such documents.

The two loan agreements were also not provided to Parliament and the committee’s written requests to both Attorney-General Paul Kihara and the National Treasury for submission of the documents remained unanswered until the time the report was tabled in the House.

The committee recommended that the Head of the Public Service should submit the two SGR loan agreements to the Office of the Auditor-General for verification during the 2022/2023 audit cycle. The committee has also faulted the terms of the agreement, which, it points out, are unfavourable to KRC, the government and KPA since all disputes were to be referred to China.

According to the agreement at Paragraph 17.2, in case of any dispute, it shall be referred by any party to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Cietac) for arbitration in accordance with Cietac’s applicable rules. The place of arbitration shall be Beijing.

The report is scheduled to be considered by the House next week.