Sh30bn Itare dam now no more than a grazing field

The messy story of the stalled Sh30 billion Itare dam is well illustrated by the torn Kenyan flag flying at the abandoned construction site in Kuresoi North, Nakuru County.

The flag of the Italian contractor, CMC di Ravenna, and that of Italy flying besides the national flag are equally tattered.

The state of the three flags is perhaps a manifestation of the unresolved issues surrounding the multibillion-shilling project.

The dam stalled after CMC di Ravenna, which won the tender in 2014, filed for bankruptcy in 2018 in Italy, after sinking billions of shillings in the construction work that began in April 2017.

Inquiry into the scandal

Last December, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) launched an inquiry into the scandal and summoned several former board members of Rift Valley Water Works Development Agency and top government officials in the Ministry of Water and Sanitation over alleged corruption in the project.

Angry residents who leased some of their land to the company to set up temporary working stations now want the insolvent company to remove its machinery as it has not paid them the agreed lease fees for the past two years.

“I don’t want these machines rusting on my land. This is now the second year in a row and I’ve not been paid my outstanding dues.

Equipment on my land

“I’m told the company went under, but no single government official has ever come to tell me what I’m supposed to do with these machines and equipment on my land.

“If the company went under, the government should take away their rusting machines to give me room to continue with farming,” Mr David Kiptoo Koskey said.

Mr Koskey had leased seven acres to the company, which built its operation base offices there.

“According to signed lease agreement documents, I’m supposed to be paid Sh16,000 per acre per year, which amounts to Sh112,000 annually, but since 2018 I have not been paid, yet their machines are still intact on my farm. I’m now suffering and I cannot use my farm by planting crops. My children are suffering,” he said.

Cows, goats and sheep are grazing deep inside the valleys that were excavated to create room for construction of the 57-metre-high dam with a capacity to yield 100,000 cubic metres of water a day, to address water shortages for nearly one million residents of Kuresoi, Molo, Njoro, Rongai and Nakuru town.

The construction noise by heavy earth-moving equipment that shook the earth is no more, perhaps indicating that Jubilee’s flagship project is ‘dead’ for now, even as its revival date remains uncertain.

The industrial yard is overgrown with grass that surrounds the rusting machines.

The 30-kilometre earth road leading to the site that was upgraded is full of potholes and a journey that took 30 minutes to Molo town now takes one hour.

Impassable road

Bodaboda riders are cashing in on the poor state of the road that is impassable when it rains, charging passengers Sh500 a trip.

“Every time I carry a passenger, I visit the garage due to the bad road,” Mr Micah Cherono, a bodaboda operator laments.

And just when several trading centres along the road were picking up due to heightened activities at the construction site, traders are now counting losses after the project, which was to end in 2021, abruptly stalled.

Mr Henry Kamau, a wholesaler in Molo town, says closure of the construction site has forced him to scale down the supply of goods to traders along the ruined earth road.

The stalling of the mega project dealt a blow to the Chepkoburot trading centre that thrived while construction lasted.

Some of the biggest losers are second-hand cloth sellers in trading centres.

Second-hand clothes

“I’m worried about the future of my business. Market days were busy for my business as I could sell one bale of second-hand clothes, with the majority of the buyers being workers employed at the construction site [but] with the closure of the site, I rarely sell anything for the past two years,” Ms Florence Njeri from Molo said.

The indefinite closure of the construction site has led to loss of thousands of jobs. Local farmers, too, are feeling the effects of the closure as they are not selling their fresh produce to construction workers.

At CMC site offices, overgrown grass and weeds provide a grazing field for goats. Former workers sometimes gather there to discuss their fate. They have not been paid their outstanding dues running into millions of shillings.

Mr Clinton Cheruiyot, one of the more than 2,500 workers, said their sacking was a breach of contract as they were not given sacking letters as required by law.

“For the past two years, we’ve been waiting for our dues. Schools are set to open soon and we don’t have money to take our children to school,” he said.

Mr Cheruiyot said one of the sacked workers committed suicide as he could not provide for his family.

“Many workers are depressed and their families are on the brink of disintegrating. Some of our colleagues are admitted to hospitals, while others are unable to service their loans,” Mr Cheruiyot said.

Mr Benson Kurgat said CMC di Ravenna last communicated with them via email in February, to officially terminate their services. “I’m owed salary arrears for the 14 months I worked and with this email, it means I will never be paid,” he said.

The chairperson of Itare dam, Mr Michael Sang, said the community will not allow a new contractor to start work until all the workers are paid their dues.

When the Nation toured the site, Administration Police and hired guards were keeping watch at the premises.

Inside the industrial park, heaps of construction sand and ballast are visible, while massive cement mixers and trucks that used to carry sand and building materials are grounded as assorted machines lie idle at the bushy parking yard.

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