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Taken for a ride? Kenyan county paid too much for US$1,000 wheelbarrows

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Does a stainless steel wheelbarrow really cost nearly KSh110,000 (about US$1,039)?

Bungoma county governor Ken Lusaka had a lot to answer for at a press conference a couple of weeks ago after news broke that the county had spent KSh1,093,200 on 10 wheelbarrows.

Lusaka said a preliminary investigation showed the wheelbarrows were so expensive because they were special ones, likely intended for use at the soon-to-be-completed Chwele slaughterhouse.

“These are wheelbarrows that are made of stainless non-carcinogenic materials that are also insoluble in various reagents used in food industry,” he said. “What is clear is that it’s not an ordinary wheelbarrow, because if you tell anybody that you bought a wheelbarrow for KSh109,320 it looks outrageous.”

Does Lusaka’s claim add up? Or is the price tag of these wheelbarrows outrageous?

‘Stainless steel wheelbarrows very rare’

wheelbarrowThe Bungoma wheelbarrows differ from ordinary wheelbarrows - their handles are made of aluminium, their containers of stainless steel and they have two wheels, the county’s director of veterinary services, Dr Wycliffe Wangwe, told Africa Check. (They also have two wheels and should therefore not be called wheelbarrows, he added.)

Stainless steel wheelbarrows are not common in Kenya, as Africa Check found out when asking at several major hardware stores in the country. The wheelbarrows most sell are metal ones, painted to prevent rusting.

A salesperson with Elite Tools in Nairobi, Ken Kamau, said: “We don’t stock them. Stainless steel wheelbarrows are very rare.”

In Kenya, someone needing such a wheelbarrow would therefore probably have to have it specially made or import it. Manufacturing one would cost between KSh45,000 and KSh70,000 – depending on the quality of the steel, said Peter Kariuki, assistant engineer at ASL Steel Division in Nairobi.

“The full grade, which is pure stainless steel, is the most expensive; [wheelbarrows of a lesser grade of stainless steel are] made in the informal sector,” he said.

Slaughterhouses mostly use trolleys

But are slaughterhouses required to use stainless steel equipment to process meat?

“That is what we recommend,” the head of the veterinary public health and animal products division at the Directorate of Veterinary Services, Dr Charles Ochodo, told Africa Check.

Citing the Meat Control Act, he said: “Materials used shall be impervious, easily cleaned and resistant to wear and corrosion.”

This means that slaughterhouses can use a number of materials that meet those requirements, such as stainless steel.

According to Ochodo, most slaughterhouses, including the national Kenya Meat Commission that Lusaka mentioned at the press conference, use stainless steel trolleys, not wheelbarrows.

Depending on the type of stainless steel trolley required, prices can range from Ksh20,000 to KSh70,000, said Hiten Shah, sales manager at metal fabrication and general engineering company Metco.

Conclusion: Price of Bungoma county’s KSh110,000 wheelbarrows is outrageously high

A full-grade stainless steel wheelbarrow or trolley would cost at most about KSh70,000 to manufacture, sellers told Africa Check. Instead, Bungoma county paid nearly 60% more for theirs, at KSh109,320.

The county’s governor asked for a comprehensive report on the procurement. It will surely show that Kenya’s taxpayers were taken for a ride in an overpriced wheelbarrow.

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