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City roads suffer in tussle over cash

Motorists in Nairobi are having to endure bad roads longer than expected because of a tussle over funds between the national and county government that began last year.

Routine road maintenance is usually intensified ahead of every rainy season, but that has not happened this time round.

A drive around Nairobi, for example, reveals potholes on many key roads, which have partly been blamed for traffic snarl-ups. 

Apart from budgetary allocations and donor funding, the government collects a fuel levy charged on petrol and diesel to expand and repair roads.

The current charge stands at Sh9 per litre of petrol or diesel after being adjusted upward from Sh5.8 per litre in June 2006.

The fuel levy is collected by the Kenya Revenue Authority on behalf of the Kenya Roads Board, which manages the fund.

“I bought 44 litres of super petrol for Sh5,000 a few minutes ago. This means I have paid to the government almost Sh400 in fuel levy. Should I be forced to sit in traffic for 30 extra minutes because of one pothole?” asked Ms Serah Muthoni, a regular user of the potholed Komarock Road in Nairobi.

Mr Abdi Mohammed, a truck driver, claimed that he had been forced to use his entire travel stipend to repair four punctured tyres between the city’s Industrial Area and Outer Ring Road.

“We are used to these potholes and tyre bursts. I wasn’t even aware I have been paying money to the government for routine maintenance,” he said.

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) said the disbursement of Sh2.5 billion for maintenance took longer than expected following the tussle between the national government and counties. 

“We got the money late — in November. And the delay in having contractors on site was occasioned by the strict procurement procedures, which we must adhere to,” said Kura’s chief corporate communications officer John Cheboi.

Transition Authority (TA) Chairman Kinuthia Wamwangi confirmed the delay, saying it started when the National Treasury sent funds to the counties before a final decision was made on the functions to be immediately devolved.

“We did not transfer roads handled by Kura and Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra) – we only moved 99,000 km of smaller roads, which had not been budgeted for,” he explained.

The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution puts the national government in charge of the construction and operation of national trunk roads and developing standards for the construction and maintenance of other roads by counties.

The Road Bill 2014, drafted by the Ministry of Roads, defines Class A, B and C as national roads, leaving Class D and E to counties.

The TA has been working to end the stalemate and also decide whether the various roads authorities should be devolved to the counties or remain with the national government. 

But there may yet be relief for motorists after Kura said it has awarded 170 contracts worth Sh2.5 billion from the fuel levy to maintain roads in urban areas throughout the country.

Kura Director-General Joseph Nkadayo said maintenance and repair of roads in Nairobi was under way and would take at least six months.

“We have started a maintenance programme worth Sh1.16 billion in the city, and 32 contractors are on site. We expect them to cover many potholes before the full onset of the long rains,” he said.

Some of the worst-affected roads in the city include sections of James Gichuru, Lenana, Dennis Pritt, State House, Gitanga, Argwings Kodhek, Riverside and Lumumba drives and Koinange Street.

Other roads are Mumias in Buru Buru, Mutindwa, Outer Ring, Councillor Bundo, Komarock and Moi Drive in Umoja One estate, among others.

Kura will also spend Sh68.7 million in Lower Eastern, Sh70.1 million in Upper Eastern and Sh156 million in the Central region.

Kura is also evaluating bids for the conversion of Nairobi’s Outer Ring Road into a super highway with works expected to start in early July. The 13-km stretch starts from the General Service Unit headquarters on Thika Road to the Taj Mall in Embakasi.