Joint press statement from Okoa Mombasa and the Institute for Social Accountability.
Delivered 30th May 2022 by Wanjiru Gikonyo (TISA) on behalf of TISA and Okoa Mombasa.
As most of you are aware, on 13th May, the High Court in Mombasa issued a judgment in our case ordering the government to release all contracts, agreements and studies related to the construction and operation of the Standard Gauge Railway.
The judgment came in response to a court petition that Okoa Mombasa and TISA filed in June 2021. We filed that petition after the government refused to respond to a series of Access to Information requests that Okoa Mombasa filed in 2019. And those Access to Information requests came after years of public outcry to see the documents – from activists, ordinary citizens, journalists, even government officials.
Yet here we are, 17 days after the judgment, two-and-a-half years after our ATI requests, five years after SGR operations began, and we still have nothing. No contracts, no agreements, no information. We have only obstinance and arrogance from the government. The secrecy that began with the SGR’s conception continues to this day. The government continues to operate as if it’s above the law and above all of us – the very people who have elected them.
The Constitution is very clear that they are not above the law. And now a court has confirmed that. The government cannot spend hundreds of billions of our shillings in the shadows, without scrutiny. We have a right to see those documents. We have a right to participate in our own governance. We are on the hook for those loans – you and I will pay them with our tax dollars and will suffer if Kenya defaults.
In his decision, Judge Mativo wrote:
“Public bodies have a constitutional duty to give people access to information so that they can exercise their rights. When they try to subvert a person’s constitutional right by being unresponsive and playing possum their conduct should be deprecated.”
Today we are demanding that the government stop playing possum. We are demanding that they comply with the court order and release the SGR contracts immediately.
Media reports last week stated that the government has appealed the judgment. We would like to clarify that to our knowledge, these reports are false – pure spin by the government. The government may intend to appeal, but we have not been served with any documents related to an appeal as of today.
Moreover, today we call upon the government to abandon its right to appeal for one simple reason: A responsible government should not be wasting time and resources to avoid transparency and accountability. They are spending our tax money to hide from us. Each and every one of us should be insulted by this behavior.
The SGR is the most expensive infrastructure project in Kenya’s history, at 450 billion KSH. It has also been one of Kenya’s most disastrous ones. It has devastated Mombasa’s economy by moving port operations inland. It has added to Kenya’s growing and unsustainable debt. It has operated at a loss. And there may be more problems to come – we won’t know until we see the contracts.
We have a right to know all of this. How our money is being spent, the consequences of a loan default, and the government’s decision-making processes in signing the deal. We have a right to see the contracts and other documentation. We repeat our call for the government to release them immediately.