18 July 2018

Kenya: Chinese to Work At SGR Till 2027

Photo: Daily Nation
Workers on the standard gauge railway (file photo).

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will still have Chinese workers until 2027 when local staff are expected to take over, the government has said.

The Transport ministry has defended the Sh1.7 billion-a-month cost of running SGR and has assured Kenyans that the line is making profit and will by 2020 pay back its loan.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the percentage of Chinese workers will reduce yearly, with the peak in 2027 when SGR will be run 100 per cent by Kenyans.

Mr Macharia also fought back allegations of racism and discrimination of Kenyans working at the SGR, promising to present a report to Parliament on Tuesday.

"If this investment is not a success, I wonder what will ever be," Mr Macharia told the National Assembly Committee on Transport.

RACISM

"We launched this service 30 months ahead of schedule. We will be doing a total of 16 trains on the track by end of the 2017/18 financial year, and we expect that to hit 28 by the end of June next year," he said, adding that the Ethiopian SGR did not have as many trains on the track and as much revenue as the Kenyan one.

In a document he presented before the committee chaired by Pokot South MP David Pkosing, Mr Macharia painted a rosy picture of the SGR, which has been in the news lately over claims of racism, huge costs of running the line and slow pace of skills transfer.

He backed the controversial rule gagging SGR staff from commenting on issues about the line on social media.

On racism, he cited the cafeteria, saying while there were no separate tables set aside for Chinese and Kenyans, a "failure in terms of cultural integration" was to blame. The staff have the same menu, he added.

Currently, there are 841 Chinese workers compared to 2,679 Kenyans, indicated data presented to Parliament by the ministry.

TRANSFER SKILLS

Media reports have suggested the figure could be as high as 5,000, with Mr Macharia insisting the report contained the names of those who left Kenya at the end of their duty in 2016.

Questions had been raised on the slow pace at which the transfer of skills at the SGR was being done, with further claims that the Chinese were being paid for non-skilled and skilled jobs that Kenyans can do.

But while the ministry said 76 per cent of the workforce was Kenyan, it is still notable that almost half of the 2,679 are outsourced jobs, with about 400 of them still undergoing training.

At least 650 of the 2,679 are outsourced security staff, and 394 pre-employment trainees at the Railway Training Institute.

A total of 1,635 "direct employees" are not classified based on what they do.

A question by a member of the committee on what percentage of the 841 Chinese workers are in management, or the unskilled force, went unanswered.

On the cost of running the project, Mr Macharia did a breakdown to the committee showing SGR will break even by June 2019.

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