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State makes u-turn on importation of new buses

Steve Umidha @steveumidha

The government has rescinded plans to import high-capacity buses from South Africa after an uproar from the public and local vehicle manufacturers.

It had set aside Sh500 million to pilot the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services  and had even entered negotiations with a South African firm to source 30 buses to be used to move passengers in Nairobi in an effort to decongest and ease traffic flow.

That decision, however, descended into “chaos” days after the public caught wind that neighbouring country, Tanzania had hired a Kenyan fabricator of passenger vehicle bodies, Labh Singh Harnam Singh (LSHS) to build its own BRT buses, prompting Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia yesterday to set the record straight on the situation.

“We had never planned to import the BRT buses. We are committed to engaging local manufacturing and assembling capacity in provision of these buses and pushing for policies that encourage private sector-led investments in the automotive and transport sectors,” he said.

Macharia spoke when he opened a Sh700 million bus and truck body building facility by Kenya Coach Industry (KCI).

“The facility has 300 staff hired directly while 1,200 are employed indirectly and it supports suppliers of steel, aluminum, paint, glass and electrical equipment who produce material required to fabricate chassis and vehicle body parts,” said KCI Narian Sokhi.

It had been feared that Kenya’s plan to import the fully built bus units had gone against Jubilee’s government’s “Big Four’ agenda on manufacturing, where it pledged to provide incentives such as tax breaks and conducive policies to support local companies involved in manufacturing business.

Such a move would have triggered importation of jobs while locking out hundreds of young Kenyans from such opportunities.

Macharia said that the government will in the next four weeks launch six BRT corridors in Nairobi, an initiative that will cost taxpayers a whopping Sh4.5 billion as a means of addressing the traffic situation in the city, with priority routes already earmarked for such process.

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