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Ferry service to remain free

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 15 – The government has not considered charging commuters for ferry services at the Likoni crossing despite possibility of such a move generating millions of shillings in revenue for the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS).

Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere said on Friday a fee could not be imposed, saying such a proposal would face rejection.

“The people who use that ferry free of charge are none other that my constituents. Are you suggesting that I impose a fee on my constituents? That is worth considering but it is not something that we can impose,” said the Minister who is also the member for Matuga Constituency which is in the south coast.

Estimates show that approximately 200,000 people cross the ferry every day and that a Sh10 fee would translate into Sh2 million a day or Sh720 million a year which would be used to maintain the old ferries and buy new ones.

Ferry passenger services have been free since the late 1960s when former President Jomo Kenyatta issued the directive.

“I don’t think we shall impose a charge unless the people themselves prefer to make a contribution so that they may have ferries replaced when they want a replacement to be made,” the minister added.

The channel has for a long time been served by five old ferries which have in the recent past been stalling at alarming rates causing congestion and panic among the commuters. Repair works are also costly affair with the refurbishment of one flap estimated at Sh8 million.

Plans to order two new ferries- which were expected in December last year- have been delayed several times primarily due to lack of funds from the government.

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The Transport Minister who has on many occasions been accused of laxity in his job explained that the holdup initially occurred because the government was unable to pay the full amount of Sh1 billion to the manufacturers by September last year as the two parties had agreed.

“The agreement required that we pay for the ferries in full. By that time, we had paid just a half of the amount to get the work started. Come September we had a shortfall occasioned by the fact there was famine (in the country),” he said referring to the channelling of money to import food as an intervention measure of dealing with the crisis.

Mr Mwakwere however assured that this time the country would take delivery of ferries from Germany by the end of March.

“Payment was made in November 2009 and that’s the only time that the manufacturers allowed us to take possession of the ferries,” he said.

“I’m pleased to announce that last week we got confirmation of the vessel that will bring our ferries. The date I was given for sailing is February 27, that’s when the ferries will be shipped from Germany to Mombasa. Every thing being equal, we should have them by end of March,” the minister added.

Manufacturers are currently training electrical and mechanical engineers from the KFS who will be handling the new machines in the exercise expected to end on January 23. Transportation of the ferries and training of the officials is expected to cost approximately Sh1.2 billion, the minister added.

In the meantime, Mr Mwakwere appealed to ferry users not to panic when the ferries stall adding that they were unlikely to sink.

“It is unfortunate but we have got to contend with the situation as it is,” he said while defending KFS against accusations of incompetence.

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