The dilemma over the multi-billion shilling Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme continues, for at least 30 days, after parliament demanded for a full audit of the project.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, in its attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the stalling of the project, failed to make progress after a meeting with officials from the ministry of agriculture and the National Irrigation Board could not shed any light.
Governors Dhadho Ghodhana (Tana River) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) also attended the meeting.
“We are directing the Auditor General to give a report on the project since its beginning until now within 30 days on the status of Galana-Kulalu after which we will all get together again and discuss the way forward,” said committee chairman Njeru Ndwiga, the Embu Senator.
Ndwiga said the new details emerging during the meeting were worrying because the project may have been “a white elephant”.
The project contract was signed for KSh7.2 billion in 2013, KSh5.9B of which has already been paid to the contractor (Green Arava from Israel) and all that may have gone the drain as the project stands no chance of living to its promise of bridging the food security gap in the country.
The initial cost of the project was KSh14.5 billion before being revised downwards to KSh7.2B.
During the meeting, it emerged that bush clearing cost a whopping KSh580 million, with the two host counties saying they were not involved in the project despite agriculture being a devolved function.
The National Irrigation Board confirmed how confusion around bush clearing and identifying the right parcel of land delayed the project by a whole year. Initially, NIB started clearing 20, 000 acres of land believed to belong to the Agricultural Development Corporation but were forced to work on a different 10,000 acres at a cost of KSh580 million.
“Kenyans are staring at a white elephant and the way it is gong it is now clear that this is a white elephant where billions of money has been lost,” noted Ndwiga.
Irrigation principal secretary Fred Segor led Ministry of Agriculture and NIB officials alongside representatives from the State Law Office.
Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri did not appear before the committee but sent a written response, saying the project had stalled “due to contractual challenges encountered in the execution of the project” and NIB had recommended termination of the project.
According to NIB, only 3,300 of the 10,000 acres of the model farm have been done, producing a meagre 109, 259 bags of maize since April 2015 to date.
This means the average cost of productions is KSh69, 000 per acre, which yields 39 bags.
Governors Kingi and Ghodhana said they had never been involved in the project implementation, a fact they say was now evidence of how “certain quarters” had deliberately excluded them because they were not keen on having the project succeed.
Their sentiments were backed by Migori Senator Ochilo Ayako, who observed that NIB did not want to proceed with the failed project. However, Ayako cautioned against the apparent move, saying the country had invested billions which they (NIB) must account for before handing it over.
National government had suggested that NIB and the ministry was seeking to hand over the project to the two counties upon completing the 15% remaining infrastructure project.
“We have no intention of doing farming but we hope that we can agree with the counties on how to move forward after we have completed the infrastructure,” the PS said.
Governor Kingi cited contravention of Article 121 of the County Governments Act when the project was being started, saying there was no approval sought from the respective assemblies.
He, however, explained that they had not raised issue then because it was said at the time that the project would “lower the price of Unga from KSh120 to KSh60 within 30 months of the ground breaking”.
“National government never engaged the counties on implementation of this project but as long as this was going to feed the country and lower the price of Unga we were happy to let the project proceed,” Kingi told the committee but went on to accuse the national government of being insincere about the project.
“There have been a lot of untruths from the national government about this project.”
His Tana River counterpart, Dhadho Ghodhana, accusing NIB of killing the project deliberately further dismissing claims that some of the produce from the completed area of the farm had been distributed as relief food to the counties as alluded to by the ministry officials.
In calling for the probe to extend to Bura and Hola irrigation schemes, Ghodhana further accused NIB of frustrating farmers by attempting to control every aspect of their activities.
“The role of counties in these kinds of projects cannot be secondary as they happen in our own counties and agriculture is a devolved function,” said Ghodhana.
“I wish this committee would find that this project be domiciled with the two counties. NIB should pull out of the project and let the counties implement it forthwith.”
The project is now at a stalemate after the Attorney General advised against termination of the contract saying it would leave the government in trouble with the government of Israel.
“The Attorney General advised against termination of the contract carries with it certain consequences that will directly impact on the loan agreement with Bank Leumi,” explained Kiunjuri, who now chairs the high level meeting comprising officials from treasury, Office of the President and the State Law Office that is supposed to engage with the contractor with a view to saving the project.