MPs query Sh4b water hyacinth cash

Members of Parliament are probing how the Ministry of Environment spent Sh4 billion to eradicate the stubborn hyacinth which continues to choke Lake Victoria.

The Select Committee on Regional Integration chaired by Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda is seeking answers on whether the money was spent justifiably in the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP).

Core to the probe is Sh824 million in capital transfer to community-driven development projects in Kericho, Nandi, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Siaya and Busia counties.

LVEMP II reported that the funds were spent on 247 groups dealing with environmental conservation and in training and exchange visits by the groups.

Francisca Owuor, the LVEMP national coordinator, told MPs that the groups were essential to the agency’s core mandate of reducing the flow of effluent into the lake. 

A report by the project managers to the committee shows that Sh79.6 million was spent on tree planting in the recipient areas covering over 900 hectares.

But legislators poked holes on the venture saying it would have increased the country’s forest cover by a huge margin. 

“The question is; where does the money go?” Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda asked.

The situation has clouded efforts by President Uhuru Kenyatta and AU envoy Raila Odinga to revitalise Kisumu port’s operations.

The two want the port fully put to use amid plans to link it to the Standard Gauge Railway set to be constructed to the lakeside town.

According to the report, another Sh90 million was spent on roof water harvesting and in spring protection at Kapchorwa, Nandi county.

Some Sh21.8 million was spent on sub-catchment management plans while another Sh28.8 was eaten up in development of wetland management plan for Homa Bay, Nandi, Kericho, and Kisumu.

A Sh29 million expenditure on feasibility studies and detailed designs for artificial wetlands for sewerage treatment plants is also a subject of the review. 

Some of the cash, according to LVEMP, was spent on studies and designs for a special sewer line to offload wastewater from lake transport vessels. 

The reports were handed over to Lake Victoria South Water and Services Board which is yet to implement works on the lines. 

Another Sh141 million expended on 12 exhausters to help in on-site sanitation and Sh90 million spent on 30 bio-toilets were also queried. The toilets were handed over to beneficiary schools, markets, and fish landing beaches.

“Some projects seem to be on paper,” Lamu Woman MP Ruweida Mohamed observed during a recent committee session. 

CS Tobiko said the projects are audited by the World Bank but stated that the ministry would order a forensic audit on the same to ascertain if there was value for money.

Also, core to the audit is a stalled hyacinth harvester that was acquired at Sh76 million but has never been put to use over a fault which needs Sh2 million to correct.

The deadlock follows an inspection which revealed that the equipment was not to the required standards, hence, has not been accepted by the ministry.

Lawmakers demanded explanations on why LVEMP paid for the equipment before it was certified fit for harvesting hyacinth. 

Tobiko admitted that the ministry is ‘between a rock and hard substance’ in dealing with the matter as allocating Sh2 million to repair the fault will ignite an audit query.

“We cannot spend the money as it would result in a variation. We asked the supplier – Unit Export Ltd, to meet part of the cost as we seek funds to do our part,” he said.

The World Bank has given an April 30 deadline for the parties to resolve the row with the CS saying an international tribunal would be expensive if sought to end the stalemate. 

A breakdown on the overall expenditure showed that the project’s funds were absorbed at 95 per cent, being 37,957,533 US dollars. 

The World Bank granted the government the said monies to initiate activities that were not only to see the hyacinth removed but also to control factors that make it flourish.

LVEMP is among projects coordinated by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission – an EAC institution with headquarters in Kisumu tasked with mobilising resources for projects in the lake basin.

Hyacinth was first spotted in the lake in 1990 and was nicknamed Ford – having coincided with the party’s formation during the clamour for multipartyism. And over the years, it has remained a constant threat to the livelihood hopes of over a huge chunk of the 35 million people in the Lake Victoria basin.

Having secured funding in 2009, Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) initiated activities to reduce pollution of the lake. This was the second phase.

Water flowing from the uplands during the rainy season was found to be rich in minerals from fertilisers, which boost the growth of hyacinth. 

A number of projects were initiated. Some saw community groups plant trees, rear seedlings, plant bamboo among others. Various initiatives were introduced in Nandi South, Kericho East, Nyando, Muhoroni, and Kisumu targeting community self-help groups and farmer groups.

In the second phase, LVEMP concentrated on efforts to remove hyacinth through biological means by introducing weevils that feed on the weed. Other strategies were to manually remove the invasive plant and the use of a hyacinth harvester for a mechanised extraction. 

But with the weed currently choking Winam Gulf, the question is whether Kenyans got value for money spent on efforts to rid Lake Victoria of hyacinth.

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