The Kenya Kwanza administration put on hold the construction of the Mau Summit highway because it was expensive, with the State now pushing for a review of the Sh179.9 billion ($1.3 billion) project.
The new administration reckons that it found the total cost to be too high given the current dynamics where Kenya is in a tight fiscal space.
The government is now negotiating with the contractors and financiers of the project, a move that will delay the roll-out of the project that has attracted financiers such as the World Bank and the African Development Fund.
“We are still in negotiation. It became a bit hard for us to afford going by the current dynamics, so we requested them to review their presentation to be able to see whether we can make them affordable,” said the Roads Transport Principal Secretary Joseph Mbugua.
Asked by what margin the government wanted the cost reduced, Mr Mbugua did not give a figure.
“You see, affordability… If you are told to afford something it is about the total cost of the product vis-à-vis what we can support financially,” he explained.
Mr Mbugua was, however, optimistic that the negotiation would be fruitful, with the government having presented its proposal to both the financiers and contractors of the project.
“And we are also working with them. So, we will come to a consensus,” he said on the sidelines of the fourth Engineers Partnerships Convention (EPC) in Nairobi.
Although the contractors are yet to break ground on the 233-kilometre road, the government has allocated Sh816 million for the acquisition of land along the planned highway in four fiscal years to 2025/26.
Earlier, a source at the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha), which is the procuring agency, told the Business Daily that the contractor will be using existing Kenha way leaves, meaning no new land acquisitions.
The Kenya Kwanza administration is reported to have put the construction of the highway on ice, throwing contractors and funders of what is Kenya’s most expensive road project into a spin.
Initiated by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta, the construction of the Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit toll road that was initially meant to kick off in September 2021 has been awaiting the approval of President William Ruto.
A consortium of three French firms indicated they were ready to break ground having got the financial backing of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank.
However, sources close to the project say the new administration has been cagey about the tolling of the road, which they fear will roil the economy of President Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard.
Both the contractors and financiers have indicated they were waiting for President Ruto’s word on when construction should start.
President Ruto has since met his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron during a visit to France in January, and it is understood the impending construction of the road featured in the bilateral talks.
France has intensified its activities beyond the Francophone countries and has set its sights on Kenya as an entry point into the East African region.
This is the largest French-related project in the country as the European economy scrambles for a piece of the infrastructure billions in Kenya that have gone mostly to Chinese firms.
The French consortium, made up of Vinci Highways SAS, Meridian Infrastructure Africa Fund, and Vinci Concessions SAS, was expected to recoup its investments in 30 years by charging toll fees on the road.
Mau Summit road, which would have been expanded into a four-lane dual carriageway through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model, is the main artery from Nairobi to western Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One of the major sticky issues has been the absence of an alternative route for motorists who did not want to pay toll fees, as is the case with the Nairobi Expressway.