NAIROBI, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday defended the construction of the high speed standard gauge railway project by Chinese firms, saying it must go ahead to achieve the government's development goal.
Kenyatta also thanked his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
for accepting his request for funds to build the railway and invited critics to the critical project to channel their grievances to parliamentary committees investigating the procurement process.
"The Standard Gauge Railway project must and will go ahead for us to achieve our developmental agenda. But we want the process of implementing it to be as transparent and as open as possible. This is a project for all Kenyans," Kenyatta told a televised news conference in Nairobi.
He called on the public to shun individuals as well as local and foreign companies with commercial interests that want to scuttle the key infrastructure project, saying the government followed the right procedure in the tender for the project.
"Too often in our country these days, the very notion of economic progress, such as we are working to achieve, is persistently threatened by conflict sparked and fuelled by commercial interest groups, be they local or international. Conflict, of necessity, commands attention and absorbs us. But we must tackle this hostile ideology whose character is ruthless, and method insidious," he said.
The railway to be built by Chinese firms is a flagship project earmarked for the targeted improvements of the regional transport system under the Vision 2030, a plan to make Kenya one of the world's medium income economies.
The high speed railway, expected to be completed by March 2018, will be constructed in three phases with phase I starting from Mombasa to Nairobi, Phase II from Nairobi to Malaba, and the last phase from Malaba to Kampala, Uganda.
"The Export-Import Bank of China will provide a commercial loan of 1.6 billion dollars and a concessional loan of 1.63 billion dollars, a total of 3.23 billion dollars, for the development of Phase 1 of the project covering the 609 km distance from Mombasa to Nairobi, a massive 20 percent of their total portfolio in Africa at present," Kenyata said.
"It says much of what investors think of our country that one can avail this type of investment to a single recipient," he said, adding that the deal was sealed in July 2013 when he made a state visit to China.
Kenyatta said the Standard Gauge Railway will reduce the cost of doing business in the region and make the region far more competitive for investment.
In particular, he said the railway will reduce freight transportation tariff charges from the present average of 0.20 dollars per ton-kilometer to about 0.083 dollars, and reduce transit time by freight trains from 30 hours on average to 8 hours. It will also increase rail transport share in the Northern Corridor, reducing damage to the road network in that area.
"Businesses will thrive. Thousands of jobs will be created. I, for one, believe that the delivery of the Vision 2030 can be brought forward a full decade, if we implement our infrastructure development agenda within the tight time-frames we have set for ourselves. We are irreversibly committed to our developmental agenda," he said.
The president said his government has also made provision in its budget for the fiscal year 2013/14 by creating a Railway Development Fund, supported by a levy of 1.5 percent imposed on all imports.
He said the Kenya Railways and the China Road & Bridge Corporation have undertaken the feasibility study and preliminary design of Phase 1 of the project.
"We embraced it as our own, fully acknowledging its transformative role in our economy. We have detailed time-frames for the delivery of this railway. We intend to meet those time- frames," Kenyatta said.
Kenya has been seeking massive improvements in the national and regional infrastructure, covering road, rail and oil and gas pipelines in its bid to benefit from trade with the rest of eastern Africa.
China is currently in the process of funding the construction of the Nairobi Metropolitan transport system and the Northern- Southern by-pass, a major road projects aimed at easing transport chaos in Nairobi through an expanded roads infrastructure.
Some projects have been delayed by environmental concerns. In the case of the rail project, there are fears that due to the encroachment of the railway reserve, there may be an issue of the resettlement of the people.
Analysts said the authorities should carefully handle the resettlement so that the railway project proceeds.