How regime changes, policy dissonance wastes billions in abandoned projects

How regime changes, policy dissonance wastes billions in abandoned projects

By Silas Apollo

Each government and administration that comes to power must develop its own blueprint on which it hopes to bank to drive its agenda and deliver on its promises.

Soon after he assumed office as the country’s third President in 2002, the late President Mwai Kibaki embarked on transforming the country by rebuilding institutions and infrastructure to restore its lost glory. Kibaki had inherited a country run down by the misdeeds of the Kanu regime. In his quest to turn around the country, Kibaki embarked on mega infrastructure and institutional reforms.

His successor, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, followed suit after his victory and election as the country’s fourth President in 2013. Kenyatta, just like his predecessor Kibaki, also launched an ambitious blueprint that he believed would guide his transformational journey as President. 

Governors, who assumed office for the first time soon after the 2013 elections, also embarked on a similar journey at the regional level. 

The regional governments launched and even promised major reforms in the institutions they had inherited, with some promising improved service delivery and the rebuilding of key infrastructural projects to spur growth.

The county bosses had assumed office following the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, which created the devolved system of government intending to decentralise power and resources away from the central and national government.

Yet years after the various administrations launched and even promised some of the changes they planned to make, a number remain unfulfilled, with some of the infrastructure projects lying idle despite eating up billions of shillings.

What has been left instead is a lack of continuity in government, with each administration coming to power either abandoning, duplicating, or launching their own projects – exposing many of the previous projects to risk. 

And this trend has non broadened beyond projects and programmes. Across various administrations, the reshuffling of staff has also become a trend. Every administration that comes to power comes with its personnel, even for offices that may require continuity.

While filling positions like those of cabinet and principal secretaries is usually left at the discretion of the incoming President, major reshuffles have also been witnessed across the entire civil service.

At the county level, loyalty to any new administration has also been the currency upon which most appointments and reshuffles across departments are made, affecting continuity. 

This is besides appointments such as those of the county executive committee member positions and their chief officers alongside other appointees of governors. 

The lack of continuity across various government entities at the national and local governments has caused taxpayers to lose billions in taxes.

A report published by the National Assembly’s Budget Committee estimates that about Sh9 trillion worth of projects started during the Kibaki and Kenyatta regimes have stalled. In the report published in 2021, the Committee notes that some of the affected projects include roads, office blocks, dams, and irrigation projects. 

The losses incurred have primarily been blamed on a lack of continuity as each administration that came to power rushed to initiate its project, sometimes outside the law. 

Other projects were also launched without secure funding as each government rushed to fulfill campaign pledges and promises to the electorates raising concerns about the country’s planning and public spending decisions.

The report further notes that the significant number of stalled projects, which comes with delayed payments to contractors, has also become a major contributor to the cash crunch, ultimately precipitating job losses and the closure of businesses.

The projects also accumulate pending bills, increasing completion costs, and could expose Kenya to legal compensation claims by slighted contractors if cancelled.

The value of stalled projects is equivalent to the size of Kenya’s entire economy, reflecting the magnitude of the incomplete and abandoned infrastructure upgrades.

And at the county level, governors have also come under heat and scrutiny over mega projects that have since become white elephants after successive administrations abandoned their completion. 

Some counties have also been on the spot over a failure to jumpstart critical projects launched by previous administrations and abandoned by their successors. 

For instance, in the western region counties such as Kisumu, Homa Bay, Bomet, and Siaya, mega projects estimated to be in the tune of billions of shillings lying idle became white elephants or were never even started following the transitions to different administrations. 

Some of the projects, which former governors Cornel Rasanga (Siaya), Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Isaac Ruto (Bomet), and Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay), promised to launch shortly after they took office, were to be funded by donors.

In Kisumu, Ranguma had promised a Sh400 billion ship to be built by a Canadian company, Continental Maritime.

The company had signed a pact with the county government in October 2013 to build 22 ferries that would ply the various ports on Lake Victoria. The projects, however, failed to kick off with Ranguma exiting office in 2017 for his successor Anyang’ Nyong’o. 

In Homa Bay, a Sh560 billion joint project launched by Awiti with Good Earth Power, an international consortium based in Oman with interests in construction, energy, communications, and land development sectors, remains a dream. There has yet to be progress, with Awiti leaving office soon after the 2022 election.

The project, which would include green energy power plants, roads, water treatment plants, waste management, and a telecommunication system, is now a white elephant despite the signing of the pact in October 2013.

The Bomet County government has also been at pains to explain the failed plan to implement water and early childhood development projects, both initiated by Ruto, who left office in 2017. 

This is despite what critics said were expenditures running into hundreds of millions of shillings incurred by the projects, which were abandoned by successive administrations, including that of the late governor Joyce Laboso and her successor Hillary Barchok.

In other counties such as Meru, where at least three governors have been in power over the last three election cycles, a lack of continuity in administration and delivery of services has also been cited, with others blaming it for slowed growth. 

The same could be said for other counties such as Baringo and West Pokot, where newly elected governors Benjamin Cheboi and Simon Kachapin have been in a race against time to complete projects they began in their first term but were abandoned by their successors.

The Parliamentary report also argues that a chunk of the stalled projects were initiated during the Kibaki era that started in December 2002 and became white elephants after county governments failed to allocate funds for them.

The projects, the report notes, were the casualties of the devolved government system adopted after the 2013 election when Kenyatta came to power alongside governors. The report notes that county governments failed to allocate funds for projects that started or were ongoing in the second term of President Kibaki.

“The total cost of stalled projects is Sh9 trillion. This is a worrying trend as it indicates there is no adherence to the project guidelines issued by the National Treasury,” the Budget committee then chaired by former Kieni MP Kanini Kega said in the supplementary budget reports to Parliament.

Two decades of debt-funded infrastructure growth policy have seen officials rush to initiate hundreds of projects beyond what the country can afford, egged on by connected tenderpreneurs seeking to secure multi-billion-shilling deals.

Kenya has borrowed a cumulative Sh6.8 trillion over the past 20 years, with 84 percent of the loans tapped under the Jubilee government since 2013 promising ambitious infrastructure projects.

Other institutions such as the World Bank have, on the other hand, also argued that about 40 percent of the projects which became white elephants in the country resulted from the transitions in government, including the adoption of the devolved system of government in 2013.

The World Bank argues that some other 53 mega projects are also dormant because of a number of factors such as litigation, wayleave challenges, acquisition of land, and funding suspension by donors.

Another reason has been the introduction of budget ceilings by the National Treasury to tame spending by various government agencies and institutions.

The period leading up to the 2017 General Election, in particular, saw a significant increase in project launches — particularly roads — by the Jubilee and county governments as they tried to win votes.  (

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