Kenya: Chinese SGR Staff Lived Large at Kenyans' Cost

The Syokimau SGR station in Nairobi.
26 February 2020

Kenyan taxpayers paid dearly for the comfort of Chinese employees brought in to build the first phase of the standard gauge railway (SGR), including furnishing their houses and paying for their domestic staff.

This is despite the fact that the Chinese were remunerated better than their Kenyan counterparts, who were paid per day.

The Chinese were also eligible for overtime payments.

A strong army of 5,795 Chinese workers were brought in to build the first phase of SGR, way above the 2,000 figure given by the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).

'ONLY 2,000'

Amid heavy criticism from the public and Kenyan workers that there were too many Chinese staff on the project, CRBC had in 2016 claimed it had only hired 2,000 foreigners.

“The project releases recruitment information and holds job fairs in the locality, drawing residents from neighbouring communities into railway construction,” CRBC told the Business Dailyat the time.

The company further said it had hired some 19,858 Kenyans to work alongside the Chinese undertaking management and technical duties.

But the project’s contract shows CRBC may have been economical with the truth.

In fact, it does not mention the total number of local personnel hired for the project. This means their employment may not have been structured.

SIGNS APPEARED

Signs of these skewed employment terms started becoming apparent just two weeks after President Uhuru Kenyatta witnessed the laying of the first 500-metre SGR track in Mtito Andei, Makueni County, on February 1, 2015.

Kenyan workers — who were being paid Sh400 per day for casual labour, Sh700 for machine operators and Sh650 for drivers — downed their tools, saying CRBC was paying them poorly.

The striking workers, who numbered about 300 and were working on the Mombasa-Mtito Andei section, also complained there was an influx of workers brought in from China to do “manual jobs which locals could handle effectively”.

ALMOST 6,000

On its Bill of Quantities, CRBC sought accommodation for 5,795 Chinese personnel. They were paid handsomely and lived lavishly at Kenyan taxpayers’ expense.

The foreigners were grouped into two broad categories — senior and junior staff, who numbered 95.

The other category, which had 5,700 personnel, were just labelled “staff” and were distinguished by their grades — from Type 1 to Type 5. These were the low-cadre employees like machine operators.

Unlike the Chinese junior staff who were paid for working overtime, their Kenyan counterparts — who worked in shifts — were not eligible for the allowance.

Part of the payments made in a lumpsum to CRBC for preliminary works was Sh42.9 million for overtime pay for junior staff, Sh12 million as allowances for trainees, Sh30 million for miscellaneous expenses and Sh30 million for supervisory works.

FURNISHED ACCOMMODATION

Taxpayers also paid for furnished accommodation for 10 senior engineers at Sh3,074,211 each. The second grade of engineers, who numbered 20, got furnished houses at Sh2,818,027 each.

The five top engineers also got furnished offices at Sh4,211,005 each. This is besides a further Sh7.6 million, which was to be used to pay for temporary accommodation, in case they could not make it to their houses at night.

In total, CRBC splashed over Sh1.3 billion on maintaining the top five engineers. Their offices and houses alone cost Sh544 million to furnish and maintain, which included Sh72 million allocated to pay their domestic staff.

TEMPORARY RESIDENCES

Maintenance of accommodation quarters for Chinese junior staff was budgeted for according to their categories. Construction of the temporary residences — made of precast material — used during the period cost Sh200 million.

The staff in category one, who totalled 600, had their quarters maintained at a monthly cost of Sh12,274 while category two staff, numbering 1,200, had their quarters maintained at Sh11,251.80 per month. Category three staff, who also numbered 1,200, had their quarters maintained at Sh9,206.

The 2,400 category four staff had their quarters maintained at Sh6,137 per month while category five, who numbered 300, had their houses maintained at Sh3,580 daily. The total cost for maintaining the houses of the junior staff totalled Sh48 million.

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