An Interview with Eng. John Mosonik. Interview conducted while he was Principal Secretary at the state department of infrastructure.
Thank you for the opportunity Engineer, kindly introduce yourself.
Thank you. I’m in charge of transport and infrastructure as the Principal Secretary the state department of infrastructure. I will approach my introduction from two perspectives, that is, from my personal capacity and also in terms of my official capacity. Now, as Mosonik, my background is in engineering. I’m a registered engineer with the two institutions that is IEK and EBK. My background is in Electrical engineering, I’ve been in the ICT sector for more than 20 years and I’ve worked with the government and also the private sector. At this point and time I’m in charge of roads and infrastructure. I have a MBA, MSc in strategy and MSc in finance. Now, on the official capacity as a Principal Secretary in this Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, I’m in charge of overseeing road construction in this country and when I talk about that I look at it from various coordinating agencies. We have various roads within the rural areas, we have urban roads and of course have the national highways. All these fit in the portfolio of the roads that we do in the ministry across the country. The current road network is about 161,000 KM and this is what we call classified roads, that is from class A, B, C and D. The network has grown over the last few years to over 200,000km within the current road network. Apart from that we look at standards. This is a topical issue that I will discuss. We look at the standards to make sure that we build the roads which conform to safety standards for minimized risks to motorists as we roll out roads throughout the country.
Engineer, what would you say has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I would say am at the peak of my career at this point and especially being in charge of road infrastructure in this country during this particular time. I assume you have seen the demand in terms of the road network; this is a challenge because we must be able to meet these kinds of demands through proper planning and in terms of funding. I would say this is my peak.
What was your first project as P.S?
Yes, It was in the ministry, when we came in of course there were various ongoing projects but if I was to pick one, the first class road from Mau summit to Kisumu. I would say that was my first project to be completed. Apart from that I would say that I’m very proud of the road from Taveta up to Mwatate. And then from Marsabit to Moyale, which was about 60% done when we came in. This is something I cherish. Within my department, we have been able to change lives and people can be able to travel from Moyale to Nairobi probably in less than five hours. This is a journey which used to take close to three days. This is one thing I can say we have achieved as a ministry and indeed a country.
You have mentioned that there are a number of projects that are still underway at your department. These roads are being done by expatriates, mostly Chinese. How can we have more local engineers participate in the current infrastructural development in the country?
I have two perspectives. I think there has been issues with the local contractors vis a vis foreign contractors and with the participation of local engineers and local contractors. I think as a ministry our ambition is to see the local contractors participating fully in these kinds of constructions. But again as I had said earlier, investments in infrastructure is very expensive. Most of these international tenders attract international contractors so we go for competitive bidders but apart from that we have referenced some of the contracts for locals as required by the Procurement Act and other local content Regulation. That is if we have any project below sh.1 billion, local contractors get priority. But apart from that as a ministry we have projects for the local contractors. I am happy because there are about six or seven contractors who have taken up the challenge. We are also seeing ladies come up and we actually have about four companies that are led by ladies that are doing quite well. We are also taking care of the youth and the disadvantaged whereby they are taking up in terms of the construction. I would say today that we are proud as a ministry since we have been able to offer opportunities to all that is in terms of the physically challenged, we have the youth, the local contractors and apart from that we have the international contractors. International contractors of course go for bigger projects that actually require a lot of funding. We have engineers as consultants and I would say we don’t have enough engineers. If you see the output of local universities, we have quite a number. But those who are going for the registration are probably about 2000 at this point and time. I think that is an issue we must be able to address because among the key requirement you have to be a registered engineer if you have to supervise a project or be a consultant.
Apparently as you’ve said there only about 2,000 registered engineers?
Yes, I would say at this point that’s the number
Which is not enough…?
No, it’s not enough. You see we have various disciplines, like we have the civil engineers who are relevant to this industry. We have electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and so on across the sectors. But I would say again we don’t have enough engineers at this point and time. We need more so that we can be able to use them in the agency as well as within the private sector.
What are the other challenges in regards to having more engineers practicing?
Remember there are some issues in terms of accreditation. EBK are doing their very best to make sure that most of the programs being administered in the universities should be able to meet the kind of criteria which is required before an engineer can graduate. We have been going to universities and taking them through the kinds of standards they need to attain to be able to be registered. So I would say at this point and time I’m fully satisfied with what is being done so far. Within the next few years we will be seeing the output of engineers who are competent in the industry who could be able to meet the kind of minimum requirements which are required in the industry, and from that we can be able to offer the one year internship. We will be seeing in due course role of those programs. Many engineers will be coming for practice within various sectors in the industry.
While implementing these infrastructure projects, what have been the challenges for you and your team?
The challenges are a number; the greatest is in terms of capacity, especially in the engineers, that is the key challenge. We have many projects and quite often you’ll find one engineer supervise quite a number of projects which translate to poor quality work. Second is funding. I really want to roll out many projects but the available funds are minimal and this is an issue that we should address. The government has been very keen on these programs and you can see an additional of sh. 30 billion that is geared towards rolling of rural roads. The other challenge is, I would like to see more local contractors come on board, that is a fact. And quite often when we advertise these tender projects, the response especially from local contractors has been very poor. I also want to encourage these local contractors to fully participate in these projects and then we will do our very best in terms of creating those incentives which will be able to make them work better.
You mentioned the price is quite expensive and now sh. 30 billion will be put into that, there is a discourse that there is a lot of money being spent on infrastructure; do you believe that to be the case?
Yes. I think the issue is how can we be able to put these resources to good use so we that we roll out more kilometers of roads? And if you look in the past, I think there have been some claims that the cost per kilometer has been quite expensive. You’ll find a rural road closing upto Ksh. 70million a kilometre, and in the program which we are doing now we’ve managed to bring the cost down to about sh. 30 million. That means we roll more kilometers from the few resource that we have. And that is a success that we have achieved as a ministry and we are still going to do more. The other aspect is, our research department should be able to come up with innovations whereby the cost in terms of technology should be able to come down. So that we realize our long term ambition to make sure that without compromising the standards we reduce the costs. In terms of high traffic roads the costs is still minimal. We are looking at about Ksh. 80 million to Ksh. 100 million per kilometer. This depends on the terrain; some terrains are very bad and attract slightly higher cost per kilometer. There are some areas that we have structures like bridges and that attract more costs. But generally we are looking at about 30 to 40 million shillings per kilometre within which can be able to withstand upto 10 to 15 years lifespan.
Do you think we are biting more than we can chew in terms of debt that we are incurring to fund our infrastructure projects?
I don’t think so. I think these things require what we call proper planning and there is no time when we say we have enough resources. So whatever resources we are using we have planned that we complete and then we can be able to pay back and get the value from the infrastructure. I don’t think we are chewing more than we can bite. What we are doing is, with the proper kind of planning, we are rolling out these roads and the impact will be great. You will be a witness that in the next three years we will have rolled out close to 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers. That’s the target.
So the end justifies the means?
Thank you very much Eng. Mosonik.