County bosses can do much better

Council of Governors chairperson Ann Waiguru flanked by some of the Governors

Council of Governors chairperson Ann Waiguru flanked by some of the Governors. 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The public spat between the Controller of Budget and county governors is the kind of stuff that makes news.

This week, the Controller of Budget, a constitutional office, reported that all county governments have seriously violated the Public Finance Management law that requires them to devote at least 30 per cent of their budgets to development, but instead they spend most of their revenues on consumption. She was pointedly told to leave her posh office, get to the ground and discover for herself the travails the governors are going through with delayed disbursement of funds.

However, Dr Margaret Nyakang’o was quite right, and her report this year was no different from previous ones. Indeed, it seemed to follow a template, with only the figures of the lopsided expenditure by county governments changing slightly every year.

 It is a fact that most of the money allocated to counties by the National Treasury goes towards paying salaries and other personal emoluments of civil servants, legislators and executives, but instead of swallowing the truth and seeking ways to change the situation, they have resorted to accusing her of overstepping her mandate with the specific aim of making them look bad.

Dr Nyakang’o is doing no different from what her predecessor, Ms Agnes Odhiambo, did for eight tough years since 2012, regularly flagging the lopsided expenditure by counties and the low priority given to other vital functions that devolved governments are, by law, supposed to undertake.

Indeed, Ms Odhiambo used to be even more categorical that the reason the devolved units never had enough money to devote to development programmes was because their legislators and chiefs kept wasting scarce resources on conferences in posh resorts and benchmarking trips to foreign countries.

According to the latest report by the COB, while governors do not find anything wrong in allocating billions of shillings to recurrent expenditure, and while they are all uniformly groaning under the weight of pending bills, mostly incurred by their predecessors, few of them have seen any need to curb the appetite for spending resources that they do not have on an ever-expanding wage bill. It is rare to hear a governor, for instance, outline any plans to impose austerity measures with the aim of reducing bloated bureaucracies that consume most of their revenues.

It is even rarer to hear them talk about what they intend to do to supplement whatever is allocated with self-generated income streams.

A mere excuse

Instead, many are content to blame the National Treasury for delaying the disbursement of funds thereby stymying their efforts at implementing development projects. They may have a point, but it sounds like a mere excuse since none of them accuses the Treasury of denying them funds altogether.

Even if late disbursements affect programmes, skewed priorities are more to blame. For instance, building, equipping and supplying hospitals with drugs should always take priority over hiring casuals to trim hedges.

What is even more intriguing is that the governors have almost uniformly failed to exorcise ghost workers who regularly consume millions of shillings that should go towards worthier causes. How is it possible for them to watch money going down the drain for years on end due to such blatant corruption? Phantom employees seem to haunt every office in every county, and, apparently, no governor has ever come up with a fool-proof way of getting rid of them. It does not make sense.

Every county has or should have, a specific number of employees with specific duties. Most of these workers are civil servants whose files should be on the shelves of human resources departments.

 Even those out in the field should be in a master payroll which is easy to peruse by anyone in authority. Yet, in a recent report, Kitui County alone has been paying 935 ghost workers for the past five years, gobbling up millions of shillings at the expense of taxpayers. Do we need to ask who is responsible for such corruption?

Maybe it is time governors were surcharged for such anomalies, for if they are not extremely careless, they must be complicit. There is no adequate explanation for how a county can lose Sh2.8 billion in one financial year to flesh-and-blood “apparitions” as Nyamira County did between 2018 and 2019. Such a thing boggles the mind.

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Someone please educate me on this one. Recently, I sought to apply for a Hustler Fund loan because I wanted to know how this thing works and also because errr…I wanted to start a small business selling managu. So I dutifully went through the steps, and eventually learnt I was worth all of Sh2,000, which did little for my self-esteem.

Cool, I decided, I’ll apply. But that’s as far as I got. The first piece of advice was to try again after 30 minutes. I did so but then I was told to give it an hour and try again. On the third try, I reckoned that at this rate, the managu would dry up before I could sell a single leaf or make a blessed cent in profit. What could have gone wrong?

Ngwiri is a consultant editor; [email protected]