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New Mwananchi Gas Yetu Project?

John Munyes, Petroleum Cabinet Secretary

In a country where personal ambitions override the rational human instinct of good for the survival of the many leading to primitive accumulation that is myopic even about the dangerous paths it is taking, will the Mwananchi Gas Yetu Project ever be realised?

At the start of the year 2020, the government of Kenya (GoK) having failed in its first attempt at the Sh3 billion project to replace the use of dangerous firewood as a source of energy and cooking for many households in Kenya especially those in the rural areas, it advertised the tender for monitoring the safety of the six-kilogramme Gas Yetu cylinders.

In its first attempt, the money had ended up in the pockets of the corrupt few.

The decision by two senior state officials to cut a deal with a company teetering on the brink of bankruptcy led to the uneventful collapse of a project that would have seen millions of homes supplied with cheap cooking gas.

The programme which was launched in October 2016 had seen Rupesh K. Sinha’s firm Allied East Africa Ltd (AEAL) given the tender which was forced to be shelved temporarily in 2018 after many thousands of cylinders were found to be faulty and therefore dangerous for use.

The sh3 billion project was meant to safeguard the poor from respiratory diseases caused by the use of firewood for cooking.

Other sources claim the programme run into funding problems and at some point, the programme was thought to have been given to the private sector to run, which is kinda.

In its grand Project Mwananchi, the government was to buy five million gas cylinders by the end of 2019, fill them with gas and distribute them to the low and middle-income households at a reduced cost of Ksh2,000 ($20). The fee covers cylinder, burner, grill and gas.

The cost of refilling gas was put at Sh840 owing to the high number of users that it would generate, from the current Sh1000 or so.

When the project was temporarily stopped in 2018, the 67,251 faulty cylinders attracted the attention of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) who launched investigations into a what was then termed a malpractice.

The Petroleum Ministry and the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (Nock) were the targets of DCI. NOCK had even bigger problems from a series of multi-million scandals.

It is true that the Petroleum Ministry cancelled two other tenders to procure close to 700,000 cylinders, citing lack of funds. The initial tender for the purchase of 357,000 gas cylinders was valued at Ksh778 million.

When the tender was live, two banks I&M and ABC were locked in a bitter fight for control of Allied East Africa whom they claimed to have advanced loans totalling more than Sh1.3 billion.

Allied East Africa was said to owe I&M Bank Sh1.295 billion, while ABC Bank loaned the company Sh60 million. The case is confusing and seemed to be pegged on some dubious claims by the two, whoever is right even as the court will decide stood to gain from the 3 billion project.

Allied East Africa was the major player, other members of the consortium include Surge Company Ltd,  Accurate Company Ltd and MetalMate Company Ltd.

In May 2019, the PS for State Department of Petroleum Andrew Kamau had ordered the faulty cylinders be taken back from the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) depot in Nairobi’s Industrial Area for repairs.

As the govt advertised a new tender for the project at the beginning of this year, last week, Petroleum Cabinet Secretary John Munyes was grilled about the stalled project, he admitted that the Mwananchi Gas Yetu project had run into problem immediately after it was launched and that the Consumers Federation of Kenya (COFEK) had sued; taken the matter to court.

“I admit from the word go that the quality of the cylinders was in question and that was why the matter  ended up in court,” the Cabinet secretary said.

Munyes who was accompanied by the CEO of NOCK Morintat Leparan told the told the Senate Energy Committee that the ministry procured 357,355 6kg cylinders during the 2017-18 financial year. Out of these, 200, 257 were supplied.

In 2018, PS Kamau had admitted that the process of repairing the faulty cylinders would take long since the trucks can only manage 500 cylinders per load.

Munyes and Leparan disclosure drew a barrage of questions from the senators who demanded to know why the ministry spent millions of taxpayers’ money to procure defective and dangerous cylinders.

What is now clear is that Allied East Africa which was also being sought by First Community Bank for defaulting on its loan and wanted to list it on Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) might not be coming back anytime now.

PS Kamau insists the GoK didn’t lose any money as the faulty cylinders will be replaced.

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