Chinese staff for standard gauge rail halved to 2,500


Workers at the standard gauge railway construction station. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The number of Chinese expatriates to be hired for the construction of the standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Nairobi has been halved amid a backlash over the foreign workers.

The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the main contractor of the project, yesterday said it would require less than 2,500 expatriates to build the 609km new railway line at a cost of Sh447 billion.
This is sharp drop from the 5,000 mentioned last month by Kenya Railway Corporation (KRC) managing director Atanas Maina, sparking heated debate on social media with many people questioning  the high number of Chinese expatriates. The CRBC says it has already brought in 600 workers ahead of the rail construction and aims to hire 30,000 Kenyans at the peak of the building of the mega-project that is set for completion in 2017.
“During the construction period there will be about 2,000 to 2,500 Chinese technical and managerial personnel for the SGR project. This translates to less than 10 per cent of Chinese employees compared to 90 per cent of Kenyan workers that will be contracted,” said Julius Li, CRBC manager of liaison and cooperation in a statement yesterday.

READ: First phase of railway construction expected to create 30,000 jobs
China has won friends in Africa by building infrastructure across the continent, but critics claim it often relies on Chinese labour and is keener on getting African raw materials than passing on skills.

But CRBC defended its hiring policy in Kenya where it has worked on 29 infrastructure projects, including Nairobi’s southern by-pass and expansion of the Mombasa port. The company also said the Chinese workers already in the country have made efforts to improve the capacity of Kenyans to reduce the need for the foreign workers.

READ: 5,000 Chinese workers expected for railway project. ALSO: China rail contractor to buy Sh130bn local materials.

China is offering a $1.6 billion (Sh141 billion) commercial loan and a $1.63 billion (Sh144 billion) concessional facility for the Mombasa to Nairobi section— covering 85 per cent of that section’s estimated Sh327 project cost.
The State has pledged to reserve supply of raw materials and services worth at least Sh130 billion— or 40 per cent of the project’s value— for local entities. The rail project has attracted its fair share of controversy with pundits questioning its economic rationale, the pricing and the tendering.

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