Court stops digital car plates after tender row


A car bazaar in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The High Court has temporarily suspended the government’s plan to establish a production facility for motor vehicle digital registration number plates.

The Interior Ministry had in July advertised for firms to show interest in building the plant to produce the digital number plates, which were to replace the current ones next year.

Motorists were expected to pay Sh3,000 for each of the smart number plates.

Wednesday, Justice James Makau suspended tendering for the plant pending hearing and determination of an application filed by activist Okiya Omtatah challenging the procurement process and justification for building one.

Mr Omtatah alleged corruption and fraud in the government’s intention to establish the production facility.

The fresh tender was aimed at circumventing a legal hitch that blocked the Prisons Department from picking a firm to supply smart number plates.

In the court papers, the activist argued that between 2013 and 2015, the government spent more than Sh1 billion acquiring, commissioning and testing a facility for the production of new generation number plates at Kamiti Prison.

“It makes no sense at all to abandon the already acquired, tested and commissioned machinery for the final production of the number plates, which is lying idle at Kamiti Prison, and procure an entire production plant whose installed capacity will never be utilised,” said Mr Omtatah.

The push for the smart plates comes amid concerns about increased duplication of the current ones by tax-evasion cartels and criminals.

Che computerised number plates that have anti-counterfeit features, including holograms, watermarks, and laser markers, are expected to make it easier for the police to trace information on particular vehicles and their owners.

Ugandan firm MIG International was awarded the Sh2 billion number plate supply deal in 2015 alongside Germany’s Hoffman International.

But the Public Procurement Administrative and Review Board (PPARB) annulled the tender following an appeal by Tropical Technologies.

The board ordered the Kenya Prisons Service to carry out the tendering process afresh, forcing MIG to sue.

The new generation number plates were supposed to be rolled out in September 2015.

Microchip-coated vehicle number plates have been used in other countries to find stolen vehicles.

Correctional Services Principal Secretary Zeinab Hussein told court that the the modernised number plates coming from the facility will be tamper-proof and cost-effective.

“Previous attempts to undertake the process have not been fully successful as the processes were subject to numerous litigations before the PPARB and the High Court, which stalled the process,” said Ms Hussein.

According to court documents, the project is tagged under the Jubilee government’s Big Four Agenda to promote local manufacturing so as to create jobs that will transform Kenyans’ livelihoods.

Ms Hussein termed Mr Omtatah’s petition an abuse of court process and that the activist had made libelous allegations that are unsubstantiated.

“The petitioner resorts to name calling and sensational allegations against the respondents including accusing the respondents of ‘outright corruption’, ‘fraud of the public’, ‘acting fraudulently in the self-interest’ and ‘cascading fraud on the public’,” said Ms Hussein.

The case will be mentioned on November 23.

Kenya had 2.98 million vehicles on its roads — including motorcycles and trailers — in 2017, translating to about Sh9 billion in new number plate acquisition fees.