Cheboi staring at jail time over Sh25m unpaid wages

Benjamin Cheboi

Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi addresses members of the Senate County Public Investment Committee at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi on September 19, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The salary arrears were accrued by two firms between August 2018 and June 2021.
  • Baringo Governor assures MPs his administration is working to resolve the issue.

Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi is staring at a two-year jail term or Sh100,000 fine for failing to clear Sh25.5 million in salary arrears owed to staff employed by the county’s water companies.

The development comes after it emerged that the firms, Kirandich Water Company and Eldama Ravine Water and Sanitation Company, owe their staff Sh25.5 million in salary arrears accrued between August 2018 and June 2021.

Appearing before the Senate County Public Investments and Special Funds Committee on Tuesday, the governor was given 60 days to come up with a payment plan to clear the arrears.

The committee’s chairperson, Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi, said the county government is in breach of Section 17(1) of the Employment Act, 2017 on prompt and full payment of employees’ dues. Mr Osotsi observed that the Section 17 (10) prescribes a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both for employers who break the law.

“This committee directs the county government to put in place a payment plan to settle the salary arrears within 60 days,” said Mr Osotsi.

Governor Cheboi assured the MPs that his administration is working towards clearing the arrears. He added that the couty government was now paying salaries every month without fail.

“It is quite an unfortunate circumstance but the firms are putting efforts to clear the balance. The issue is caused by high non-revenue water and use of old water tariff,” said the governor.

Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu, in her report for the financial year ended June 2020, revealed that the Eldama Ravine Water and Sanitation Company lost Sh26.3 million in water produced but not billed.

The loss resulted from 69 per cent of water produced by the firm not being billed to customers, which is way above the 25 per cent allowed by law. According to the report, non-revenue water has been increased from 68 per cent to 68.5 per cent over the past two fiscal years.

Nominated Senator Tabitha Mutinda criticised the county government for prioritising payment of allowances at the expense of salaries.

“You have been aware of these issues since 2013 during your first stint as governor and no tangible solution has been put in place. How do you expect the staff to collect cash and not put it in their pockets when they are not being paid? How do you want to collect more revenue when you are not paying staff their salaries?” Ms Mutinda posed.

The second-term governor was also taken to task to explain why Mr Samuel Koech acted as the managing director at Eldama Ravine and Water Sanitation Company for five years until he resigned from the position.

Further, Governor Cheboi was pressed to explain measures his administration will put in place to reverse the loss-making trend at the two water companies which are technically insolvent.

“Help us make our people understand that water is not provided free of charge. If we change this mindset then we will have money,” he said.

In its recommendations, the committee gave the county 60 days to recruit competent staff for Kirandich Water and Sewerage Company, carry out a staff reorganisation, and put in place a new staff establishment.

Further, the county was directed to constitute a board of directors at Eldama Ravine Water and Sewerage Company in line with the law and also submit a CR12 for the company to the auditor-general for verification.

Mr Cheboi said his administration is committed to turning around the fortunes of the two water utility firms by putting in place proper governance structures, hiring a substantive managing director and board of directors, reducing illegal connections, reviewing tariffs and expanding the firms’ coverage.