Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has raised a lot of questions with his position on Kenya’s bus rapid transport (BRT) project. Speaking to the Business Daily last week, Mr Munya said the State opted to import high-capacity buses from South Africa due to unrealistic timelines, not an inability by local assemblers to meet the set standards.
That, without doubt, was a loaded comment about a project that has been shrouded in opacity. The question that the government ought to answer has to do with why the Transport ministry decided that BRT vehicles could not be sourced locally yet the Kenya Bureau of Standards thought otherwise. And what are the tight deadlines about given that one year after the idea was made public, the country is yet to start putting the infrastructure for BRT in place?
It is also not clear why the Transport ministry is fixated with importing the buses specifically from South Africa or why the minister initially announced the cancellation of the South Africa deal only to make a quick about-turn later.
The Transport ministry must address these concerns satisfactorily to clear doubts from the minds of Kenyans and to shed light on what exactly is going on and what the public should expect from the investment.
We hold the position that any country, Kenya included, should only resort to imports in cases where it totally lacks the internal capacity to produce the goods in question. The BRT system is an opportune moment to test Kenya’s ability to assemble vehicles to meet the public transport demands that the country is facing.
Manipulating procurement to fit a foreign supplier can only be counter-productive. By buying 64 high-capacity buses from South Africa at a cost of Sh1.5bn, Kenya will not only be migrating hundreds of jobs from its economy but also deplete its precious stock of foreign reserves by the same margin.
Secondly, Tanzania, which initially imported high capacity buses from China, has since sought Kenya's assistance in building the vehicles. It is curious that the neighbouring country is recognising a capacity that Kenyan public officials have failed to appreciate.
As long as manufacturing remains a key pillar of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda, the State must prepare to offer more than a lip service to the sector.
What better place to start than the BRT project?