Kenya: Ruto Opens Project Amid Worry Over Payout

Deputy President William Ruto on Friday launched an irrigation project in Busia County as locals remained worried about lack of compensation for people displaced by the initiative.

The launch came more than a year after the government initiated the project to curb flooding in Budalangí and parts of Siaya County in October 2017.

The Sh7 billion Lower Nzoia Irrigation and Flood Mitigation Project is meant to stop floods caused by River Nzoia and also beef up food production.

Although the Sh3.87 billion contract for the irrigation component of the project -- financed by the World Bank through the International Development Association (70 per cent) and German-owned state development bank Kreditanstault fur Wiederaufbau (30 per cent) -- was signed in November 2017, it wasn't until June 27, 2018 that the project began.

The Deputy President, while commissioning the project at Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, said the initiative will raise land under irrigation from 2,000 to 10,000 acres.

FOOD SECURITY

Some 5,000 acres will host rice while the rest will go to tomatoes and other crops.

From the current earnings of Sh600 million per year, he said, the project will be able to generate up to Sh3 billion. "The project will also have a rice mill, which will enable farmers to embrace value addition," he said.

Water and Sanitation Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said the project will benefit more than 12,000 households and at least 60,000 residents.

"Apart from rice, we are also considering expanding production to include maize and bananas to boost food security and agribusiness," said Mr Chelugui.

But the ceremony was skipped by representatives from Siaya County. They had protested that it was the DP launching the project and not the President and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

MPs Raphael Wanjala (Budalangi), Geoffrey Omuse (Teso South) and Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East) were among those who attended the launch, alongside officials from the irrigation board.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong said the region needs rehabilitation of infrastructure. "We only need good roads to facilitate ease of transport for both farmers and residents," he said.

Mr Wanjala brought up the same issue of infrastructure: "This project had stalled for almost 10 years. We urge the government to assist us to tarmac the 17km Namang'usi-Ruambwa road to ease transport and movement of people."

Residents like Mr Samwel Magoba lauded the project but hoped the government would compensate them for their land.

In January, Land Chief Administrative Secretary Gideon Mung'aro disclosed that at least 8,000 title deeds for displaced land owners will be issued in Budalangi.

"We are writing green cards for the title deeds in Bunyala, then owners of the land will be compensated to pave the way for the construction of the projects," he said.

PAYOUT DELAY

Mr Wanjala decried the slow pace at which the land department was preparing the green cards.

Though the contract had been signed and the contractor was on site in June 2018, the project has dragged on because of a compensation row that has put the National Land Commission (NLC) on the spot.

It is feared that the delays may bring additional costs to the project due to claims from the contractor.

The government had set aside Sh1.4 billion to compensate displaced land owners.

But as of Friday, only 214 of 2,807 parcels of land affected by the project had been paid for at a cost of Sh169.7 million, representing just about 7.6 per cent of the compensation target.

Last month, Water Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu said money has been provided. "Funds for compensation of the persons affected by the project have been adequately provided for by the government and subsequently transferred to NLC for disbursement," Mr Irungu said.

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