A Chinese firm, Third Engineering Bureau of China City Construction Group Limited, has suspended operations in Kisii County citing a harassment by local authorities.
Sub-contracted to build a section of the Kisumu-Kisii highway, the firm halted operations at Mosocho in Kitutu Chache Sub-County citing maltreatment from officials from Kisii County.
This comes a day after the company’s workers protested and barricaded the busy road for hours over what they termed as continued harassment from the county enforcement officers who had earlier arrested ten of them and put them in custody for a day.
Seven casual labourers of the company sustained injuries and are receiving treatment at various hospitals in the region where they were admitted after a scuffle with county askaris.
“My workers have been fearing for their security as the county government has been asking us to pay for the water we fetch from a nearby river, something that has forced us to close our site at Mosocho,” said the company’s manager, Mr Jay Zhao.
It is alleged that some local leaders are accusing the company of not employing residents to work at the project.
Mr Michael Oringo, a driver with the company, said more than 20 uniformed enforcement officers from Kisii County ambushed workers during lunch break and arrested a number of them.
“If they have issues, let them call the contractor and come up with a solution. It is unfortunate that one interested party has opted to fight the other,” said Mr Oringo.
He further noted that the county government has on several occasions been demanding payment whenever the company goes fetching water from streams and rivers in the area.
“We don’t know under which law we are supposed to pay taxes for fetching water from a natural river,” said Mr Ombuna.
The company is among contractors hired to expand and tarmac the larger Isebania-Ahero highway, covering 170 kilometres in Kisumu, Kisii and Migori counties and which is meant to be a corridor between western Kenya and north-western Tanzania.
The road project that began last year will cost about Sh18 billion to complete.
But the road building has been facing problems.
Another Chinese firm was on Monday fighting claims that it was stealing soil from farms without the owners’ consent.
China Henan International Corporation Group had had its officials charged in court early this month and was on Monday refuting claims it had harvested sand and destroyed plots in Kisii County.
On Wednesday, Kisii County Executive for Administration Walter Okibo said the contractor was yet to comply with a number of requirements, among them road signage and public health conditions, and had not settled water bills. The firm denied the claims.
“They have not been paying some taxes like the quarrying permit, transportation of soil and recycling permit. That, however, doesn’t mean as Kisii County government we do not welcome the development. We support the Big Four agenda of President Uhuru Kenyatta,” the official said.
He added that the levies are under the National Environment Management Authority but are collected by the county.
County Trade Executive Edna Kangwana said no locals have been employed at the construction site, something she said is unacceptable.
“The contractor has to comply with the rules set by the county government and we are disappointed that no local has been employed and all we want is the contractor to employ workers from the community. I have personally done letters to him but I am yet to receive any response,” She said.
Following the latest impasse in Kisii, Mr Zhao said his firm will now shift work to Ahero in Kisumu County until they get an assurance of the security for their workers.
Mr Willys Amadi, a worker, said four vehicles carrying enforcement officers who were armed arrived at the site and started beating them with pipes and forcing them into their vehicles.
“They arrived and started beating us saying they would teach us a lesson,” said Mr Amadi.
One of the victims, Mr Gilbert Mandela, told the Nation that he suffered lower back pains after he was whipped ruthlessly by the county askaris.
“Since last week we have been having problems with the county officials. They want us to pay for water we fetch from the rivers to sprinkle on the road,” he said.
Head of the company Jay Zhao said they have never received any letter of noncompliance from the county government.
“I am shocked that the county officials made the arrests and even beat [the workers]. I have complied with the road construction regulations and I am not aware why they are doing this. However, we are trying to have a meeting on the same to resolve the issues,” said Mr Zhao.