June 19, 2018 / 3:47 PM / 6 months ago

Kenya opens up deals with private firms to public scrutiny

NAIROBI, June 19 (Reuters) - Kenya has opened an online portal containing details of infrastructure financing deals the government enters into with private companies to boost transparency, its finance minister said on Tuesday.

The East African country has turned to so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs) to finance the construction of highways and other infrastructure after public debt ballooned.

Public debt went up following five years of increased borrowing to fund the construction of roads, railways and power plants. Under PPP deals, private financiers build roads and recoup their investments through avenues such as tolling.

Henry Rotich said the new portal will eliminate the secrecy that sometimes shrouds such projects, helping citizens keep track of the deals at every stage, the companies involved and the amounts of money involved.

“The PPP Projects Disclosure Portal will enable Kenyans track public projects implemented under the PPP model by providing critical project data at a touch of a button,” Rotich said at a launch ceremony.

“It is essential that all processes are transparent and verifiable in order to safeguard public funds.”

PPP deals are set to play a big role in the government’s development agenda as it seeks to roll out critical infrastructure and increase access to government services, the minister said.

The government said there are 70 PPP deals in the pipeline for various infrastructure projects which were at various stages of completion.

During last week’s budget speech to parliament, Rotich said the government would cut its fiscal deficit to 5.7 percent of GDP in the financial year starting next month, from 7.2 percent this financial year.

The bid to lower the deficit follows severe criticism from the International Monetary Fund and the public for the high public debt, which stands at above 50 percent of GDP.

Critics say the country could do more with its revenue if the government stamped out waste and corruption.

President Uhuru Kenyatta last week ordered all government entities and government-owned institutions to publish full details of all tenders and winning bids starting on July 1.

The move followed a huge public outcry after the discovery of theft of about $100 million at the state’s National Youth Service. Dozens of government officials and business people are facing various charges over the graft case. (Editing by Duncan Miriri; editing by David Evans)

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