The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) has publicly defended its decision to award a US$2.9 billion road construction contract to US-based firm Bechtel.
Following calls for more transparency in the tender process, KeNHA’s director general, Peter Mundinia, said it was Bechtel’s credentials in carrying out large infrastructure projects that swung the decision.
In a statement, he said, “The Kenyan government entered into an agreement with the US government in July 2015, to bring US companies to assist Kenya in the development of key infrastructure projects and to utilise US agencies’ financial support.”
KeNHA awarded the contract to Bechtel in July this year, to build the 473km-long expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa – a U-turn on its original plan to widen the existing road.
KeNHA says the road will be built in ten sections, with the first open for use in two years, and the entire project completed by 2024.
The expressway will initially comprise four lanes, with a provision for it to be widened to six lanes.
Under its agreement with the US government, the signing of the commercial agreement between KeNHA and Bechtel will trigger funds from the US-based project financier, Export Credit Agencies (ECA).
Some commentators have shown concern that the deal was a single-source procurement of an EPC contractor (whereby the original plan was for a PPP tender), and claim Chinese firms – which are currently undertaking a significant number of infrastructure projects in Kenya – could have provided a cheaper alternative. It has also been posited that there may be a political agenda behind the Bechtel award.
In response to these claims, the US embassy in Kenya tweeted a statement, saying, “The US embassy does not and will not give political favours for commercial deals.”
The post continued, “US private firms (bound by US anti-corruption laws) investing in Kenya’s future bring jobs, technology transfer and development.”
Once completed, the road journey time between Nairobi and Mombasa will be reduced from around ten hours, to as little as three-and-a-half hours, although as-yet-undisclosed tolls along the expressway are likely to be charged.