Order to use SGR only puts Macharia on hot seat

Senators asked why directive was not optional saying SGR may not be cheaper as claimed

In Summary
  • Macharia defended the move saying the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for government to conduct public participation, so it acted unilaterally.
  • He further said using the SGR is efficient and would also reduce damage to roads caused by heavy trucks.  
Transport CS James Macharia in Parliament before the Transport Committee.
GRILLED: Transport CS James Macharia in Parliament before the Transport Committee.
Image: FILE:

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia came under fire on Thursday for ordering mandatory use of the standard gauge railway for imported goods destined for neighbouring countries.

Senators asked why public participation was not conducted before the directive was issued requiring imported cargo to be transported by the SGR from Mombasa to Naivasha.

They questioned why the directive was not optional and said using the SGR may not be cheaper as the government claims.

Appearing before the Senate Roads and Transport Committee, Macharia defended the move, saying the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for the government to conduct public participation.

He added the trucking business has been identified as a key transmitter of the coronavirus from one area to another.

“Whether it is from Namanga to Nairobi or Mombasa to Kampala, the trucking business has greatly contributed to the spread of the virus,” Macharia said.

So the government had to act unilaterally based on its best public health information and the best interests of the people, he said.

Macharia said using the SGR is more efficient and would also reduce damage to roads by heavy trucks.

“The decision was anchored in the fact that we have a pandemic to deal with and also because rail transport will reduce damage to the road and is cheaper and efficient,” he added.

Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki said Covid-19 is currently spreading faster in the slums than among truck drivers.

“The problem is that we have delays in clearance of trucks and that is causing an increase in the spread of the disease among drivers. We should establish more testing centres,” he said.

Faki criticised the CS for not stating whether any measures are in place to mitigate losses in the trucking business. “We should not destroy the trucking business for the sake of SGR,” he said.

The Kenya Railways Corporation has launched direct SGR freight services for all transit cargo to be ferried directly from Mombasa port to the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD) where trucks will pick them for onward transportation.

Officials said freight from the Port of Mombasa to Naivasha costs $600 (Sh63,648) for a 20-foot container, $850 for a 40-foot container weighing as much as 20 tonnes and  $910 for the same sized container weighing more than 21 tonnes.

The directive to ferry goods directly from Mombasa to the Naivasha ICD, which took effect on June 1, was agreed at a virtual meeting attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta and the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

It was intended to cut the time taken from Mombasa to the Uganda border to reduce transmission of Covid-19 by truck drivers along the transport corridor.

Truck drivers have also resisted the Naivasha ICD order, citing massive investment and job losses. Transporters have built warehouses and depots in various towns in Kenya along the way to support their logistics.

Nominated Senator Sylvia Kasanga asked whether the requirement will be reversed when the Covid-19 pandemic is defeated. “The Covid-19 pandemic will come under control one day and when it does, will the directive still hold?" she asked.

There was no immediate answer.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said it was absurd to say damage to roads would be reduced because the goods will be transported only from Mombasa to Naivasha. “Does it mean that after Naivasha we have new roads that cannot be destroyed by the trucks?” Cheragei asked.

Marsabit Senator Godana Hargura said the government should instead invest heavily in preventing overloading.


(Edited by V. Graham)