Few people would deny that Kenya has a huge infrastructure gap. Many productive areas are yet to be served by roads, telephone, water, power and the internet.
A lot has happened to address the infrastructure gap since the Kanu regime left power in 2002.
There has, however, been an argument that there is too much concentration on big-ticket infrastructure at the expense of small interventions which, if well implemented, might have a bigger impact on the quality of life for millions of people. The jury is still out on the economic impact of the large projects.
But with the national debt standing at Sh4.4 trillion, it is time to pause and take stock. Kenya’s future is at stake if we continue on the current borrowing binge. That is perhaps the reason why Kenya has opted not to borrow from the US to build the expressway from Mombasa to Nairobi.
Transport Secretary James Macharia says US firm Bechtel Executive will instead fund and build the toll road.
The move could, on the face of it, remove the public from financing the project. We, however, urge Mr Macharia to come clean on what the cost implications will be—given that in the past there have been insinuations that the cost will escalate from Sh300 billion to Sh500 billion if the government-to-government financing is removed.
But more importantly, we ask why the road is such an urgent project. After investing heavily in a new railway line along the same route, wouldn’t it make more sense to take stock of the gains from the massive project? How about electrifying the railway to make it more efficient? What about expanding the existing Mombasa Road—which we are busy diverting containers from to the new railway? Already, there are plans to extend the road around the Nairobi and Mombasa outskirts. So what’s the rush to build the expressway for?
Is it possible that commercial and diplomatic interests of the Americans and some local beneficiaries are driving the investment? Parliament must get to the bottom of it and if necessary get the government to invest more prudently.