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MPs grill CS Tobiko over stalled Sh76m hyacinth harvester.

A World Bank-funded state agency mandated to rid Lake Victoria of hyacinth is on the spot for procuring a faulty harvester.

This emerged as MPs raised concerns that Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) has failed to deal with the invasive weed - 21 years since the project's inception.

The hyacinth harvester needs Sh2 million for repairs. The Ministry of Environment and the supplier - Unit Export Ltd, are in a deadlock over the machine's suitability.

The ministry has not accepted the machine but Sh70 million for it - being 90 per cent of the Sh76 million bid.

The situation has laid bare the uphill task facing President Uhuru Kenyatta and AU envoy Raila Odinga in their bid to restore economic activities in the lake.

The two personally implored upon the concerned state authorities to restore Kisumu Port's lost glory, taking advantage of its strategic location in the East African Community.

The second largest freshwater body is currently chocked, a situation that has scuttled movement by people and goods between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

The Select Committee on Regional Integration on Wednesday grilled Environment CS Keriako Tobiko over the deadlock.

The committee chaired by Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda reprimanded the ministry for paying for the equipment before it was certified fit for use.

This was despite an inspection and acceptance committee saying - four times, that the machine failed to meet the bid specifications.

At the same time, Kabondo Kasipul MP Eve Obara raised concern that some parts of the machine may have been fabricated locally and the same touted to be made in Italy.

Because the machine has not been accepted, MPs raised fears taxpayers may lose the amounts already paid to the vendor - about Sh70 million.

An insider at the ministry told the Star in confidence that the hyacinth harvester was acquired on the last day of the 2015/16 financial year, signalling a rush to expand the project's funds.

Lesuuda asked why Unit Export Ltd was paid the money yet the inspection, which the UK firm was part, revealed that the equipment was dysfunctional.

They also raised concern that the LVEMP project has received over Sh4 billion in donor funding yet the impact of its interventions is yet to be felt.

Tobiko, in his response, said the supplier had accepted there were flaws but made an about-turn after being asked to take remedial measures.

"We have put the matter before the Attorney General and Solicitor General with a view to getting an advisory on the proposal that we raise Sh1 million to repair the machine."

He said the perception that the ministry is doing nothing over the lake's situation is misplaced.

The World Bank has set an April 30 deadline for LVEMP and Unit Export to resolve the stand-off.

In another development, the lender has also suspended all projects in the lake basin for stock-taking on the investments.

More trouble for LVEMP follows the complexity of the tender whose dispute can only be resolved by the International Arbitration Tribunal.

"It would be costly to handle the dispute at such a tribunal. I have initiated an internal inquiry to ascertain how the lapses occurred," Tobiko said.

"We are trying to get an answer, within the law, to this problem together with the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA). We are eager to resolve this matter as it has taken too loCOURTESYng."

Also subject of the query are variations in costs of interventions undertaken by LVEMP - some running into millions.

Cited here was a tree planting project in Kericho which gobbled Sh16 million while another on a lower scale in Kisumu gobbled Sh24 million.

Also subject of the review is Sh9 million spent on toilets in Kericho county among other projects LVEMP has executed since 2009 when phase two began.

MPs Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Kubai Kiringo (Igembe South), Memusi Kanchory (Kajiado Central), Erastus Kivasu (Mbooni), and Ruweida Mohammed (Lamu Woman MP) cast doubt over the manner LVEMP funds have been used.

Ochanda said: 'The main question is; where does the money go?' Ruweida said some projects could be just on paper.

Tobiko proposed that a forensic investigation is conducted to unearth any flaws in the project's management.
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Mar 28, 2019
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