Infrastructure challenges and opportunities in Kenya

Posted on June 27, 2015 12:01 am

There is hardly a discussion that goes by in business and political circles across Kenya that does not raise the issue of infrastructure.One question that is in many experts mind is whether Kenya government will achieve the ambitious targets that it has set out. While there is hope there is also, because of past failures, major doubt and concern that the country will fall short in achieving its infrastructure goals.Insecurity has affected Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) in Kenya according to early June 2015 report on East African region FDI. A touch or realism, perhaps, but it is important that the effort is made, and that is going to need major improvement in order to accelerate processes in the development phase preceding construction and no shilly-shallying indecision by bureaucracies that leave willing investors in frustration.While there has been a lack of infrastructure output over the past few few years, key laws have been put in place and, while not all regulations have been completed to allow satisfactory implementation, the conditions to proceed have improved compared with previous coalition government administration of President Mwai Kibaki and his co principal Prime Minister Raila Odinga.The issue now in Kenya is that the large number of permits and certificates that are required for approval prior to construction should from now on be handled in parallel, wherever possible, rather than sequentially and the principal of the one-stop shop should be activated rather than just presented as a good idea as technocrats in President Uhuru Kenyatta administration are doing.

As has been the case for many years, annual investment in infrastructure in Kenya should be in the order of $10 billion per annum, an amount never even closely achieved.Of this sum, only less than a quarter is currently available from government budgets and the remaining three-quarters is expected to come from the private sector, development partners along with some input from aid agencies and state corporations balance sheets, where this is appropriate. It is encouraging that a good proportion of the savings made by reduction in government wastage will be geared towards the infrastructure sector and country development.Kenya has 47 counties that were established under the new constitution voted overwhelmingly in August 2010.Apart from the need to accelerate the various procedures in the development phase, there needs to be a change in attitude towards the private sector, one where the private sector is welcomed and companies’ willingness to invest in infrastructure encouraged and facilitated.Kenyan public sector has to present itself as how it can we help and not to the oft-portrayed stance of doubt and suspicion and with the insertion of unnecessary obstacles to progress, as some have demonstrated when handling key major projects.

Another challenge facing Uhuru Kenyatta government is the need to be taken up concern the quantity of work that has to be undertaken as well as the quality that the public should expect to receive.In the event that the investment level could approach the ideal target set out by Kenyatta and his strategists, then it is doubtful that the indigenous construction sector could handle the demand.Even the much touted 30% contracts to local companies will not be enough.Recently he asked the percentage to be increased to 40% while attending a pre Global Economic Summit event at Strathmore Business School. While Kenya need new outside companies in the market, they should be entering on the basis of becoming Kenyan companies in suitable joint venture arrangements and to come on the basis of being here for the long term. They should also be bringing in with them new ideas and the highest standards of the international industry.The question of professional standards is one that concerns leaders of the industry. In the early to mid-2000s, there was recognition that these standards should be raised to meet international norms and regrettably there has also been a lack of interaction with overseas professionals with exception of few cases.Therefore there remains much to be done to raise the standard of the industry across the board and put in measures that allow good career paths for new graduates, something that exists in Kenya.And that represents a challenge and an opportunity for President Uhuru Kenyatta in his quest to have technology products and other services procured by his government be procured locally.

Contador Harrison