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How Sh953 million scandal turned Turkana food security project into a pipe dream

When the government embarked on revamping the existing irrigation schemes in Turkana as well as establishing new ones, the end game was to ensure the region is food secure.

But an irregular award of tender for the irrigation projects has meant that residents have had to go back to the drawing board to seek other survival mechanisms.

The county dominated by pastoralists has over the years endured prolonged droughts, often necessitating humanitarian assistance, a thing the Jubilee administration sought to change.

At a recent project site visit, the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority  (PPRA) established that the National Irrigation Board (NIB) awarded 15 irregular tenders for the irrigation schemes worth Sh953 million.

The site visit was conducted following a petition to Parliament by residents calling for audit on all the irrigation projects, which they said had since stalled and were not giving value for money.

The NIB has been racing to use River Turkwel, River Kerio and Lake Turkana to irrigate the semi-arid Turkana and neighbouring counties to improve food security and wean its residents of reliance on state-funded relief food for their dietary needs.

Some of the 15 projects that are complete, but not operational due to various challenges include Nadapal, Loborot, Kolyoro, Turkwell and Naoros irrigation schemes.

Upon completion of the Loborot Irrigation Scheme Development project, the contractor handed it over to farmers who cultivated it for only three seasons.

Blockage of canals through siltation meant that no water could flow into the scheme. Floods have also washed away crops, after the protective gabions were swept away, further blocking the canals.

The PPRA established that the walls of the canal were not plastered, making them prone to wear during floods, a reflection of poor workmanship. It is close to a year now, since the scheme was rendered non-operational due to blockage of the main canal.

At Nadapal Irrigation Project, the story is similar. Lack of flood protection mechanisms has seen heavy flooding destroy crops in the scheme.

Blocked canals

The project is also characterised by siltation and blockage of the canals. River Turkwel, which is the source of water for Nadapal, is very wide and its course keeps changing, which may eventually result in no water getting into the scheme through the main canal.

Each time the river changes the course, the farmers are forced to dig canal manually to reach the water.

The Naoros Irrigation Development Project has partly been invaded by the Mathenge shrub which grow to become big trees.

Farmers have tried to manually clear the bush but due to their inadequate tools their efforts have been fruitless.

The PPRA found out that the contractor did not fully complete the project since all secondary canal structures were not done. Flooding has made it impossible for the farmers to till most parts of the scheme.

Following these recurrent incidents, the residents of Turkana asked the PIC to ensure that action is taken on former NIB general manager Daniel Barasa and any other NIB official found guilty of misappropriation of funds.

The PPRA found out that the NIB was in breach of procurement laws through revising contract costs, issuing restricted tenders beyond the Sh20 million limit as well as the tender committee proceeding despite lack of quorum.

Fraudulent process

Other breaches include shortening the procurement stages, revising the evaluation of bids to favour targeted firms and issuing contracts without set documents like the performance bonds.

Kiminini legislator Chris Wamalwa said it was evident that the entire tendering process for the irrigation projects in Turkana was flawed.

“It is clear that this was a skewed and fraudulent process. So obviously the outcome of the work will be shoddy. The relevant NIB officers must be surcharged,” he said upon assessment of a report tabled before the PIC by the PPRA in October.

PPRA Director-General Maurice Juma said the entities involved in the irregular award of tender for the projects will be accorded a chance to respond to the issues raised, as is required by law.

“The law requires that once we come up with such a report the entity must respond to issues raised. From here the PPRA will make a firm decision which includes compelling the entity to take corrective action or we forward the report to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC),” he said.

NIB acting chief executive Gitonga Mugambi has since denied any financial malpractices in the implementation of the Turkana irrigation projects.

His attempt to respond verbally to the matter was however shot down by the PIC, which insisted only admitting his written presentation.

Assessment

Mr Mugambi said that contrary to earlier reports, it is only Katilu drip irrigation project intended to address a water shortage in Turkana and awarded at a cost of Sh61 million, that had been abandoned.

He said five engineers were sent to Turkana in June to assess the extent of completion of the projects and found out that El-Nino rains had damaged a number of schemes.

“But Sh60 million has been allocated in the current financial year for repairs,” Mr Mugambi said.

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