High cost of road repairs and the looming threat of corruption

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By Ngumbo Njoroge

For much of the last three months, the country has been hit badly by heavy floods that have exposed the inefficiencies in our road infrastructure.

In Nairobi where the drainage system is mostly poorly planned and, in some places, non-existent, flooding has become a costly annual experience. The aftermath of the rain is likely to reveal the high cost of floods coupled with constant disregard of common norms.

The ongoing rains have wreaked havoc around the country displacing thousands of people, rendering roads impassable, making critical social amenities inaccessible, and destroying swathes of farmlands. The economic cost of the destruction of critical infrastructure is already being experienced in microeconomic perspectives.

Farmers in Nyandarua experienced a bumper harvest of vital vegetables such as tomatoes but the destruction of roads means these goods can’t reach the market. Dairy farmers in some parts of the country have had to pour milk because they can’t access markets.

There are no roads linking the demand and supply regions. But the supply regions cannot deliver goods, driving the cost of goods up in demand regions. A tomato is retailing at Sh10 in Nairobi and other urban centers while tomatoes are rotting in farms kilometers from the urban centers.

Recovery from this present milieu will be expensive. According to the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development it will cost at least Sh18 billion to repair roads that have been damaged by ongoing heavy rains and floods. Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the funds are required for immediate repairs of the roads across the country.

He said that Nairobi roads which are in urgent repair will cost at least Sh4.1 billion. In addition, Sh13.3 billion will go to Kenya Rural Roads Authority, Sh3.4 billion to Kenya Urban Roads Authority and Sh2 billion to the Kenya National Highway Authority.

According to Infrastructure Principal Secretary Julius Korir, repairs on 148 roads in Nairobi began at a cost of Sh140 million. Several county governments have also poured millions into repairing the transport infrastructure. Makueni County, one of the most affected, said they would need up to Sh200 million for road repairs.

This means that the total cost of road repairs in the country is more than double the cost of the Outering Road dual carriageway. But it is not the cost of rehabilitation that should concern Kenyans; it is the propensity of those entrusted with public office and utilization of such funds to misappropriate and ‘steal’, which the nation has christened corruption.

Corruption is stealing. It is endemic and addictive. According to Macharia Gaitho, a columnist with the Daily Nation, once enjoyment of illicit wealth is normalized and lent a veneer of respectability, no power on earth — short of a complete revolution — will reverse the rot. It should worry us that roads across the country need revamping after the destruction by floods but public trust on government spending is at its lowest. No part of the country has been spared.

Floods and landslides have rendered roads impassable. The total cost including allocations by county governments could be more than the figure stated by CS Macharia. It should also concern us part of the present problem is a consequence of corruption. According to the World Bank, corruption in transport projects can account for as much as 5per cent to 20 per cent of transaction costs. Corruption causes large scale diseconomies.

Since El Nino in 1998, public officers have learned to create easy and quick avenues for looting through Disaster Response Programs. Recent revelations of looted billions should inspire Kenyans to be vigilant that the billions allocated to roads rehabilitation are not squandered in similar circumstances as those of the National Youth Service.

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