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Jeopardy: State Unimpressed, Wants Thwake Dam Contractor China Gezhouba Group Company Out

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The expansive Thwake Dam in Makueni County.

State officials appears to give mixed signals on Thwake Multipurpose Dam project whose completion has been delayed over and over by the contractor China Gezhouba Group Company who’s now being viewed partially as incompetent.

The first phase of the Sh64 billion project was due to be finished by February 6, but this won’t happen as the contractor once again asked for a one year extension period as it became evident it won’t meet the deadline.

Despite the project’s consultant, Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (Smec), giving assurances that construction of the reservoir is 89 per cent complete, state officials seem not to be satisfied with the excuses given by the contractor and have given the clearest hint of considering replacing the contractor.

“The contractual completion date of the first phase of the project is February 6, 2024. The contractor has however given notice of intention to ask for extra time to complete the job due to various technical reasons including the El Niño rains. Once the application is analysed by the ministry, a decision will be made as to the new completion date,” Water Cabinet Secretary Zachariah Njeru told reporters when he led a government delegation in touring the project site on Tuesday.

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A senior official involved in the management of the Thwake Multipurpose Dam project told a local newspaper in confidence that the Chinese contractor could be evicted from the dam site.

Njeru led government officials in pointing guns at the Chinese contractor, whom they accused of jeopardising the Vision 2030 flagship project, touted as the country’s biggest dam project.

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The Thwake Dam project, touted as the second largest in the country after the Masinga Dam on the border of Embu, Kitui and Machakos counties, is jointly funded by the African Development Bank and the Government of Kenya. It will be implemented in four phases.

The first phase, the construction of the reservoir, reached a critical stage exactly two years ago after the contractor successfully diverted a section of the River Athi into two underground man-made channels to pave the way for the construction of the main dam across the river.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the dam site in July 2021, the project’s lead engineer Samuel Alima led a team of senior Water ministry officials in assuring him that the reservoir would be completed by June, five months ahead of the November deadline, paving the way for the roll-out of the project’s three other components: hydropower, water supply and irrigation.

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At the time, no one foresaw the hiccups that would rock the project in the months that followed, as workers walked off the job, citing delays in their salaries. There was further disruption when JTG Enterprises Limited, a Kenyan company, accused the Chinese contractor of breaching a contract between them. The matter is before the courts.

At the height of the dispute, MPs from the National Assembly’s Blue Economy and Fisheries Committee criticised the contractor when they visited the project site in October last year. The committee, led by Marakwet East MP David Kangogo, questioned why the Chinese company had not been able to mobilise money from other sources following delays in government disbursements.

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The back-and-forth has fuelled fears among locals that President William Ruto’s administration is not keen on completing the dam. CS Njeru, however, sought to allay fears as he pledged the government’s full commitment to completing the project.

In financing the completion of the project, the CS hunted at the company’s lack of capacity to finance it from external sources, “President Ruto is keen to have the Thwake Dam project delivered on time. As the government, we shall do whatever we can to support the contractor. But the contractor should have the capacity and willingness to mobilise resources from other quarters when the government experiences a delay in the disbursement of money,” he said.

Smec in defense, had attributed Smec, government delays in paying the Chinese contractor, inflation, disruption to the economy caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and unforeseen challenges in resettling people affected by the dam project as the factors to blame for delays in its completion.

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