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The multi million LVBC headquarters project in Kisumu Kenya remain a utopian pipe dream ten years later

Posted by African Press International on April 20, 2016

By Dickens Wasonga.

Lake Victoria Basin Commission, a specialized institution of the EAC created to coordinate sustainable development of the Lake Victoria basin is yet to build its own headquarters in Kenya nine years down the line.

This is in spite of the commission having obtained a two acres piece of land donated to it by the host country in 2006 when the commission came to Kenya where it has a Secretariat.

When it was established in 2004, EAC partner States chose Kenya as the seat of LVBC given the other nations of ther community Tanzania and Uganda was already hosting some of the EAC institutions .

The Kenyan authorities led by the then head of state gave a befitting welcome to the incoming LVBC teams. At the time Hon Musa Sirma a Kenyan, was the chairman of the council of ministers.
Soon after the Kenyan government under President Mwai Kibaki donated 2.8 acres of land along the shores of lake Victoria to the commission to construct it’s headquarters.

The government also allowed the LVBC Secretariat to move in and occupy the two floors of the then new Nyanza provincial headquarters. LVBC was given 12th and 13th floors to use for office space as it readied itself to build its own seat.

So why would a commission of LVBC’s stature fail to construct it’s own headquarters even after been offered land almost ten years later?

When the now outgoing executive secretary Dr. Canisius Kanangire took office five years ago,he expressed hope that one of the tangible results of LVBC during his tenure would be to to build the headquarters.

In April 13 2012, he led a high powered team of EAC officials amongst them the then chairman of the council of ministers Hon Sirma to visit the plot that the Kenyan government had donated for the project.

Dr.Kanangire said this: ” we are now working on how to move steadily from only preparing policies and strategies, to having projects and investments that are tangible in areas like infrastructure, projects that shall have more results which can be seen and touched “.

But LVBC failed in its quest to mobilize funds towards the project and remained in a rental property at reinsurance plaza where they paid millions of shillings in rent since 2006.

In October 2012, the commission announced in a section of the press that it was going to do the project in an arrangement where the Chinese government was to offer financial support.

Dr.Kanangire was quoted in one of the local dailies on the October 5th that year as saying that the construction of the headquarter would cost ksh 1.7 billion(20UD dollars at the time).

He said the Chinese government had agreed to finance the project through Grant.

He disclosed this when rolling out the 2011-2016 strategic plan. In the plan, this was among the priority projects for the commission.

With hopes of getting funds, LVBC opened request for proposals for provision of consultancy services to provide preliminary architectural drawings and specifications plans and design and cost estimates for the development of its headquarters.

This process which was funded by the EAC partner States cost the commission 20,000 US dollars. The sectoral council of minister had approved a budget line of 35,000 US dollars towards the endeavour.

A new twist hit the commission’s efforts to finance the project when after it finalized the business plan and developed a prototype, the Chinese government declined it’s earlier offer.

During an interview with the weekly Citizen in his office last week, the deputy executive secretary in charge of finance and administration, Patrice Niyongabo said the China route flopped when a new government came in .

He said the incoming government didn’t think giving funds to support the headquarter project was a priority anymore and the EAC team led by its secretary general who presented the proposal during the China Africa business forum was told as much.

China was now focusing on infrastructural engagements like ports and roads but on private partnership agreement that would see it reap returns and not through grant .

Even before it approached the Chinese, LVBC had started negotiations with the East African Development Bank to give it loan to finance the project. The bank agreed to give the commission 5million US dollars loan but when the idea was presented to the sectrol council of ministers in Arusha by the LVBC team, it was rejected.

The council felt that financing the project through a loan arrangement would overburden partner States who were already contributing slot of money obtained from the tax payers to the commission and other EAC institutions. So it was abandoned.

So how more years will LVBC wait to have its on headquarters and are there hopes that funds will be mobilized?

The top LVBC leadership insists there’s hope and they’re not giving up on the project.

After paying 60,000 US dollars annually in rent since 2006 at reinsurance plaza,LVBC recently moved to the new Nyanza provincial headquarters, a building they were offered in 2006 but they said they couldn’t move to due lack of elevators.

It is mysterious that a government funded building of 13 floors could have been erected but fail to have elevators fixed. Who got the tender to fix the lifts for this building which was constructed by the national government to be the then provincial headquarters in the previous constitutional order and what became of the lifts? Was the contractor paid for the lifts?

The commission in a trade off agreement between the government of Kenya funded the fixing of a lift in the executive wing of the building at cost of 85,000 US dollars. The trade off between the two was approved by the secterol council of ministers in Arusha according to the the deputy executive secretary in charge of finance and administration.

It is however curious that it only occurred to the top people at LVBC only recently that it was no longer sustainable to continue to pitch camp at a rental premise where rent alone was gobbling up 60,000 us dollars annually, paid for by EAC poor and rich tax payers.

Why they couldn’t decide to enter into a deal with the government to fix the lift and move in early and save money for rent is a question many would wish to know. They waited to enter into a trade off agreement nine years later, all the while they continued to pay rent.

Although the commission will continue to pay electricity and water bills it incurs at the two floors of the building ,it will no longer pay rent under the trade off agreement until it builds it’s own headquarters.

The deputy executive secretary also disclosed that the council has allowed the commission to raise seed money by opening a savings account in Kisumu where unutilized funds in each financial year can be saved.it has normally been a practice that all the unused portion of the budgeted money is wired back to the Arusha but now the commission will be allowed to keep it to help mobilize funds towards the construction project.

” All the development partners we have approached don’t think they should fund this headquarter project because they don’t see it as a development project anyway. That’s why we think we have to start raising funds internally. We will get the seed money and then ask the partners to top up” said Mr. Niyongabo.

But why has partner States failed to contribute towards the project? Other EAC institutions had their headquarters funded through the efforts of the partner States. Is there political good will for this project? Have the past two executive Secretary been keen to deliver the project or they weren’t because they were non Kenyans?

The deputy insisted that the project was still in their radar and that it has always been a priority for them. Even in the 2016-2022 strategic plan, he says it will remain top in their agenda.
He said the staff at the commission do not serve national interest of their countries and therefore should not be accused of having failed to push harder to get the project completed just because they were non Kenyans.

The headquarter project was aimed at enhancing visibility of the LVBC and to establish a permanent home for the commission capable of meeting it’s operational needs,generate internal income through renting office space and conference facilities thereby reducing on the recurrent expenditures of office operations.

The design that the consultant developed at a cost of 1.7 billion which is now kept by LVBC in its offices would see a multi storey office block with meeting/boardroom and an executive holding rooms built. External and internal fountains was proposed, conference facilities with diverse capacities ,restaurant and well kept lawns with flowers, catering facilities with the conference center and staff canteen ,car park for office and conference areas ,residence for caretaker/manager for the facility was to be done. A pier for LVBC research and navigation vessels were also part of what the project would deliver.

Although the commission top officers said talks with other partners like JICA was still promising, locals who anticipated the benefits that could accrue from the completion of such a project, like jobs like in the canteens, and other business opportunities do not seem convinced.

The protocol for the sustainable development of lake Victoria basin,which came into effect in December 2004 established LVBC to coordinate the sustainable development agenda of Lake Victoria basin.
LVBC projects and programs include the LVEMP 2 , Lake Victoria Water Supply and sanitation program phase two, the Mt Elgon regional ecosystem conservation program, the EAC/AMREF Lake Victoria partnership program on HIV/AIDS, the maritime communication and safety on Lake Victoria project and the trans boundary water for biodiversity and human health in the Mara basin project.

Ends

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