The Chinese contractor who built the Sh21.5 billion Nairobi Western Bypass omitted six interchanges and other critical infrastructure that were approved in the initial road design, denying taxpayers value for money, the Auditor-General has said.
Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu said that when the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), bid and won the tender for the construction of the project at a total cost of $171 million dollars, the project had at least six interchanges at major shopping centres along the highway.
The interchanges—which are more complex junctions—were aimed at providing convenience for the large population centres along the road to ease driving and commuting pain.
But the Auditor-General has found that the interchanges were not on the ground as presented in the approved plan for the project, in the latest revelation of how contractors and State officials collude to cheat taxpayers on major projects.
“The information...indicated that there were six interchanges to be implemented at six shopping centres along the road, all of which are evidently not done,” Ms Gathungu says in an audit of the project for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2022.
According to the initial plan, the highway, built under the President Uhuru Kenyatta administration, was to connect the Southern Bypass of Nairobi City, interlinked with the Nairobi–Malaba Road with a full cloverleaf interchange at the intersection.
At dirt (Kwa Magu) the contractor was then supposed to build the first diamond interchange, which would allow two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road.
The second diamond interchange was to be built four kilometres from the dirt one at Wangige.
Crossing Kihara-Gacii-Karura Road, some 3.01 kilometres from the second interchange, would be yet another diamond-shaped interchange at Kihara.
Not far from Kihara, and crossing the Limuru Road, CRBC was to build a Cloverleaf interchange at Ndenderu.
This more sophisticated interchange would allow the two highways to cross without the need for any traffic to be stopped by traffic lights.
This would be followed by a simple interchange at Rumingi. The last one, as the road connected to the starting point of the Northern Bypass, would be at Ruaka Town.
In its response, the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), the procuring entity, noted that the switch to cheaper modifications was due largely to the high cost of acquiring land for the interchanges.
“Omission of the first interchange was informed by the necessity to contain the cost of the project within the contractual sum, and the savings made would be channelled to cover the cost of an additional 1.384 metres of reinforced earth retaining walls and part of the 725m additional gravity retaining walls along the alignment,” said KeNHA.
The high cost of acquiring land was also cited as the main reason the other interchanges were not delivered as initially designed.
Ms Gathungu was not satisfied with the road agency’s explanation giving the project a qualified opinion, which means they contained material misstatements or omissions in some cases.
The top accountant in her audit report to the National Assembly said KeNHA did not explain the circumstances under which the contracting for the project was done before acquiring and securing the rights of way for the construction.
“Further, no explanation was provided detailing the circumstances under which the specifications of the project were changed with the aim of not exceeding the contract sum, considering that the contractor bid and won the tender for construction of the project at the contract sum of $170,998,693.24 (Sh24.8 billion) which included the cost of all the components which were removed from the scope.”
As a result, the auditor noted that it was not possible to confirm that the full scope of the project was implemented as envisaged in the original design of the project.
“Further, it was not possible to confirm that the road was constructed to quality and cost-effectiveness, resulting in value for money to the beneficiaries of the project,” she added.
The damning verdict is likely to turn the spotlight on the intermittent contract variations that have often been made on road projects under the guise of cutting costs.
For example, the entire 13km stretch of Nairobi’s Outering Road initially did not have a footbridge yet 11 had been planned for in the design, leading to a public outcry over accidents. Some footbridges were eventually provided.
Outering Road does not also have provision for matatu stages, although this is the most popular form of public transport in Nairobi.
This has meant that matatus pick up and drop passengers on the road. The same script was repeated during the construction of Ngong Road.