Why it’s difficult to trust data on roads built under Jubilee

President Uhuru Kenyatta commissions the construction of Ngong Road Phase II on March 22, 2018. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Cabinet Secretary Macharia said over 2,500 km of roads had been built by the Jubilee administration.
  • It is difficult to build 6,100km of new tarmac roads within one year, let alone in an election year, using just a quarter of the resources needed.

If Kenyans are to believe the country’s data agency, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration went on a road-building spree in 2017, and by the end of the year, the government had built 6,100 kilometres of new tarmac roads using just a quarter of the resources needed.

This road construction miracle is in the Economic Survey 2018, which says even though the government allocated Sh140.3 billion for 1,247 km of new roads, the Kenya Roads Board had recorded that it built 6,100km of new roads surpassing the target four-fold, without additional resources!

However, the President himself, in his State of the Nation address to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon last week, said only 3,000km of new roads had been built since he took office in 2013. But there’s a problem.

On March 31, 2016, still in his State of the Nation address, the President said: “In the last three years, my administration has tarmacked approximately 3,000 kilometres — or an average rate of 1,000 kilometres per year.”

Therefore, if this year’s State of the Nation address is read against the 2016 address, it means that between 2016 and Wednesday, last week, when the President was speaking to Parliament, not an inch of tarmac road had been added to the country’s road network in two years!

Again, in the 2017 State of the Nation address, the President said that “with 1,950 kilometres of new roads completed” since 2013, his government had kept the promise.

If this year’s address is read side by side with last year’s address, the additional increase between then and now is 1,050km.

Looking at the cement consumption data, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) records a decrease not only in cement production and imports, but also in cement consumption and exports.

Cement consumption dropped from 6.3 million tonnes in 2016 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2017, with the KNBS saying it was “an indication of a slowdown in growth of construction activity compared to the previous year”.

What is curious is that between 2013 and 2016 when the road construction was said to have boomed with 1,950km built, at least according to the president’s pronouncements in the 2017 State of the Nation address, the cement consumption increased from 4.2 million tonnes to 6.3 million tonnes.

But not all the cement goes into road construction, because there was also a simultaneous boom in the real estate sector.

But while cement data appears to show construction slowed down consistent with the economic slowdown in an election year, the roads’ agency told the government statistician that road construction miraculously increased — from 1,950km in three years to 6,100km in one year — yet the cement consumption dropped by 600,000 tonnes!

“The quantity of cement clinker imported reduced by 24.9 per cent to 1,504.6 thousand tonnes in 2017 while that of imported iron and steel declined by 4.8 per cent to 1,374.7 thousand tonnes, in the same period,” the Economic Survey 2018 reads.

Additionally, data from the National Treasury, which gives money for the construction of roads tells a different story.

In the Infrastructure Sector report filed with the National Treasury in January 2018, it records that between the financial year 2014/15 and 2016/17, “1,659 km of new roads were constructed and 434 km of existing roads rehabilitated”.

A look at the Budget Policy Statement of 2017 showed that 1,194 km of new roads were constructed between 2013/2014 and 2015/16.

In his Budget Speech in 2017, declaring the spending plan for the financial year 2017/18, the National Treasury’s Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said 1,950km had been built since 2013.

That means that between April 2013 when he was inaugurated and March 2017 when he addressed parliament for the last time in his first term, the government built 1,950km.

That is, 1,950km in four years, yet, during the grueling and disruptive election year and its tense aftermath, the government had built 1,050km.

Clearly this is not near the 6,100km as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics records, citing figures from the Kenya Roads Board, but it is still doubtful.

Going through public pronouncements by the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Mr James Macharia, we get that just as the country went to the elections, he said “over 2,500 km” of roads had been built by the Jubilee administration.

However, what was curious was that he spoke just 10 days after Rotich had read the budget speech giving a figure of 1,950km since 2013, raising the question of where the extra 550km had come from.

The Presidential Delivery Portal, which records the progress made in the construction of highways, records the “current status” of progress made in the road construction sector as “1,420 of new and reconstructed highways”, clearly not 3,000km as the President said last week, and not 6,100km as the KNBS records in its latest Economic Survey launched this month.

What these numbers tell us is that it is difficult to build 6,100km of new tarmac roads within one year, let alone in an election year, using just a quarter of the resources needed.

Again, either someone is feeding the President, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the National Treasury fictitious figures, or the government simply does not know what the correct figures are. Who knows?