MAN OF HIS WORD

Why I fought JKIA deal, bid for CT2 takeover — Abdulswamad Nassir

MP was at centre of the fight against KQ plans to run JKIA for 33 years, citing losses to the taxpayer

In Summary

• Lawmaker says country able to grow at rate of 30 per cent higher in absence of graft

 

JKIA arrivals and departure terminal
JKIA arrivals and departure terminal
Image: FILE

The botched plan by KQ to take over JKIA for 30 years and the controversial handover of the Mombasa Port second container terminal (CT2) have one thing in common: the whistleblower.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir questioned the manner in which the two facilities were being handed over to private entities at the expense of the taxpayer.

This criticism earned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s attention during the opening of the Kenya Maritime Academy in Mombasa on Monday last week.

 

The President took a swipe at the privatisation opponents, saying he has no room for ‘ujinga’ (foolishness), a cautionary word targeted at Nassir and his allies.

But an unshaken Nassir told the Star in an exclusive interview that much as the port would eventually be handed over, the country has to appreciate that corruption is costly.

The son of the late Kanu Coast supremo Sharrif Nassir says the country is losing about 30 per cent of its resources to corruption, hence his motivation in the JKIA and Mombasa Port matters.

“What motivates me is the fact that we can do much more in this country if we dealt with corruption. You can imagine how many schools we will build,” he said.

These aspirations, he said, are behind his bid for Mombasa governor in the 2022 general elections, a race that will put to test the late Nassir’s family clout in Coast politics.

If we are talking about equipping our hospitals, we can do 30 per cent more. Those are the figures that we lose out due to corruption. Alternatively, we can grow at the same pace by ensuring that Kenyans are taxed 30 per cent less. That is the cost of corruption in this country

“If we are talking about equipping our hospitals, we can do 30 per cent more. Those are the figures that we lose out due to corruption. Alternatively, we can grow at the same pace by ensuring Kenyans are taxed 30 per cent less. That is the cost of corruption in this country,” he said.

“It is a fight that is not going to end instantly. It will need not just a generational change but that of mindsets,” he said.

PARALLELS WITH KAA TAKEOVER

As chairman of the National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee, Nassir said the issues around the botched takeover of the country’s largest airport are gross.

What started as a review of Kenya Airports Authority audit reports revealed that KQ had a lot of debt to pay, after which details of the takeover emerged.

Struck by the shocking development, Nassir marshalled the PIC team to probe the takeover, only for the investigations to be handed over to the Transport Committee.

During his conversation with the Star, the lawmaker maintained that KQ, if not revitalised, will continue losing ground to other airports in the region.

If we felt that we are growing, others are growing much faster. We were the first entity to have centres for Boeing but today, Ethiopia has been able to go much faster than us
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir

“If we felt that we are growing, others are growing much faster. We were the first entity to have centres for Boeing but today, Ethiopia has been able to go much faster than us,” Nassir said.

“Kenya Airways has always been given money by the Exchequer, the last being a sovereign guarantee to bail out the company. The question, however, is who is benefiting from these funds?”

“There were so many nitty-gritty that, if you looked at, were a bit wanting. It was good that the Transport team took it up, but I am glad we brought it to the public limelight that there was a problem,” the Mvita MP said.

Nassir said the same script played out in the revitalisation of the Kenya National Shipping Line to enable it to operate CT2.

This started with the amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act to allow a Cabinet Secretary to exempt a shipping line from conditions barring such entities from operating a port.

FLAWED REVIVAL

KNSL was formed in 1987, a time when Kenya owned vessels but ran into management challenges that left them moribund.

The government recently sought to revive the entity, ushering in the politics of ownership, with Nassir insisting that the shipping line be wholly owned by the government.

The insistence is what attracted Uhuru’s wrath at the Maritime Academy, an event which most of the MPs opposed to the privatisation skipped.

On this, Nassir said KNSL was meant to grow, until the government issued tender for partners to come on board to partake of shares at the corporation.

MSC, Unimar and Heywood came on board after the share trading, “but the shares were floated for purposes of being a partner in a shipping line”.

“The issues of a shipping line operating a port were not there. The amount of money invested by MSC was about Sh50 million, an amount we felt was not worth granting the firm the leeway to operate the Sh27 billion CT2,” Nassir said.

“If you look at the cost of operations, business opportunities, the value of assets, we are talking about Sh100 billion. So we have given up an asset of that amount for Sh50 million.

There is going to be totally no fair play because we’ve given a private shipping line a terminal to run the terminal. Two, there was no known criteria on how the firm was decided upon
MP Abdulswamad Nassir

“There is going to be totally no fair play because we’ve given a private shipping line a terminal to run the terminal. Two, there was no known criteria on how the firm was decided upon.

“The wording of the amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act as it is now is more dangerous, as it means even entities with one per cent shareholding can own the company legally.

“They say there are issues of jobs. There is nothing liquid in the deal. This is not a government to government arrangement. These are private companies. We should have floated a national tender and asked all the maritime players to take part.”

Nassir said it would have been better if the terminal leased out or an entity is given a concession as an incentive to boost the ports’ operations.

“When you give a lease of 33 years or more, what you are basically doing is signing off the natural resources that a certain generation should have enjoyed.”  

EYES ON GOVERNOR SEAT

On the race for governor, the MP said, “I am truly humbled with the fact that people are considering me to become their governor and if I am voted in, I will serve them well.”

His bid is said would have to navigate the perceptions that he is a Joho candidate, hence likely to inherit his predecessor’s style of work.

But Nassir dismissed the claims, saying the current administration has tried, having taken over from a debt-ridden system and a human resource marred by old mindsets.

The lawmaker said his campaign would be hinged on how people empowerment, industrialisation to address unemployment, business incubation, and countering historical injustices.

Nassir is no doubt “a man of the people” at the Coast region, having been born and raised there, a factor that is likely to undo perceptions around his Arab roots.

“It doesn’t matter what the colour of my skin is. Arabs don’t call me so because I don’t speak Arabic. A majority of people will appreciate and accept me for who I am because Kenya is becoming more cosmopolitan,” he said.

The lawmaker said looking at the patterns of the 2017 general election, the link will not be a factor in the upcoming race.

I need to respect and acknowledge the fact that I am going to be a representative of people with varied ethnic backgrounds. I don’t see the Arab thing being a factor

“I need to respect and acknowledge the fact that I am going to be a representative of people with varied ethnic backgrounds. I don’t see the Arab thing being a factor,” he said.

On Saturdays, the MP attends services at various SDA churches and also worships with the congregation in Sikh temples, Catholic and Protestant churches.

Nassir is banking on his success story in the management of Mvita CDF as a selling point for the Mombasa governor bid.

Having rolled out a number of projects despite the land problems in the constituency, dealing with county development wouldn’t be a tall order, the lawmaker said.

“The challenge of land has forced us to be innovative, as exemplified in the opening of our first community FM station, Mvita FM, built by CDF. We have been doing ‘Skills Mtaani’, where students are put through vocational training school. CDF caters for 60 per cent of the cost,” he said.

“We have a situation where most pupils don’t transition to high school. It has seen the growth of thousands of people. This programme has touched a lot of lives. We are looking for donors to give the graduates equipment to practise their trade. We have started with bakers and hairdressers.”

Asked which questions he wishes those following his activities would ask, Nassir said, “I get my answers all the time. I have never lived a day when I don’t see or hear something new. Even today when I feel I have heard it all, tomorrow I will still see or hear something else.”