Details of the $3.6 billion debt contract Kenya signed with China for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Nairobi, later extended to Naivasha, could soon be in the public domain. Transport Cabinet Secretary designate Kipchumba Murkomen, during his vetting by a Parliamentary Committee, stated that he would make the contract public.
“This agreement has become opaque…My first responsibility when I get to office is to find where the agreement is, and give it to the people through Parliament. Why are we hiding?” he stated.
In a televised December 2018 interview, former President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to avail a copy of the SGR contract to NTV news anchor Mark Masai before reneging on the promise in April 2019 on the guise that counsel from Attorney General Kihara Kariuki against handing the contract to the journalist had prevailed. Uhuru maintained that no public assets would be lost to China as a result of the deal, amid reports that the Port of Mombasa was used as collateral.
A High Court judge had previously ordered the State to disclose terms of the deal, but the former administration fought against the order, citing non-disclosure clauses and national security concerns. Justice John Mativo stated that Kenyans had a right to know the assets used as collateral in securing the SGR loan.
The International Commission of Jurists – Kenya (ICJ) and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) had filed the petition seeking to have the government ordered to make public details of the contract. In response, the State maintained that it could not comply due to non-disclosure agreements signed with the lender.
Transport Principal Secretary Dr. Joseph Njoroge in court documents filed in January 2022 confirmed the existence of the clauses.
Appearing before the vetting panel, Murkomen further stated that the Kenya Kwanza administration would seek to negotiate an extension of payment periods for the Chinese loans which mature in 15 to 20 years. Debt repayments have hit the country’s coffers hard, worsened by a weakening shilling.
“If we can manage to re-negotiate to 50 years, then it will ease the burden” and enable the government to use money for other parts of the economy, Murkomen stated. “We are choked by loans.”