The big headache awaiting 30 newly elected governors

Some of the newly elected governors

Some of the newly elected governors, from left: Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), James Orengo (Siaya), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Jonathan Bii (Uasin Gishu) and Fatuma Achani (Kwale). Most first-term governors will have to confront the headache of huge wage bills and pending bills.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

More than 30 newly elected governors are staring at burgeoning wage bills and huge pending bills after they are sworn in this week.

Forty-five governors elected during the August 9 General Election will take the oath of office from Thursday.

Out of the 45, at least 30 are newcomers, some being first time county bosses, while others are making a comeback after one term in the cold.

Only Mombasa and Kakamega counties did not pick new governors after the electoral commission suspended the polls in the areas.

The elections in the two counties were slated for tomorrow (Tuesday), but the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has since postponed the polls to a yet to be announced date.

Stalled projects

By law, all newly elected governors are supposed to be sworn in 10 days after the IEBC declares them winners.

The swearing-in is supposed to take place on the first Thursday after the lapse of 10 days, which means August 25.

Most first-term governors will have to confront the headache of huge wage bills and pending bills, which stand at about Sh130 billion that their predecessors left behind.

Burgeoning wage bills and stalled projects are the new governors’ headaches, according to Mr Daniel Kimani, a governance expert, who blames the twin ills on stunted development.

“Huge debts, some of which are questionable, are some of the issues they will have to contend with,” Mr Kimani told the Nation.

‘Inadequate funding’

On stalled projects, Mr Kimani says that, some of them were started by outgoing governors, “but are incomplete due to inadequate funding”.

The new governors include Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), James Orengo (Siaya), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Jonathan Bii (Uasin Gishu), Jeremiah Lomurkai (Turkana), Kiarie Badilisha (Nyandarua), Jonathan Leleliit (Samburu),Irungu Kang’ata  (Murang’a), Fatuma Achani (Kwale ), Simon Kachapin (West Pokot), Ochilo Ayacko (Migori), Wisley Rotich (Elgeyo Marakwet), Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu), Simba Arati (Kisii), Mutula Kilonzo Junior (Makueni) and Andrew Mwadime (Taita Taveta).

Pending bills, for instance, continue to haunt county governments, with Nairobi topping the list of counties with the highest debts.

A recent review of the financial year 2021/22 County Governments Budget Implementation Report revealed that, county governments failed to settle pending bills despite preparing a payment plan to settle all bills at the beginning of the 2021/22 financial year.

The report revealed that the outstanding pending bills stood at Sh128.94 billion as of December 31, 2021.

Biggest pending bills

Nairobi, Kiambu, Mombasa, Wajir, Machakos and Tana River are among counties the with the highest level of pending bills at Sh84.01 billion, Sh5.12 billion, Sh4.29 billion, Sh3.82 billion, Sh2.80 billion and Sh2.41 billion, respectively.

In her report, Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o said that, during the period under review, the county governments reported payments amounting to Sh11.2 billion towards pending bills, out of the self-reported stock of pending bills of Sh140.14 billion reflected in the payment plans.

As a result, governors in the counties, who are all new, will have to contend with the huge debts, even as they seek to initiate new development projects.

A pile-up of pending bills among counties has previously dealt small businesses a major blow. Some contractors and suppliers stopped offering services to the devolved units as they linked the non-payment to the collapse of their businesses and their auctioning by banks over loan defaults.

Effects of Covid-19

Various counties still owe suppliers billions of shillings in pending bills, adding to the woes of the traders, already reeling from the effects of Covid-19.

In the financial years 2020/21 and 2021/22 most counties also spent most of their budgets on recurrent expenditure, with little focus on development.

Dr Nyakang’o’s report showed that counties like Nakuru, Samburu, Baringo, Narok, Kericho,Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia put most of their funds to recurrent expenditure, with most grappling with an ever rising wage bill.

This means that, the counties paid little attention to development, with most of the money going to salaries, wages, compensation of employees, and purchases of goods and services, among other things.

Nakuru, for instance, spent Sh6.7 billion on recurrent expenditure, with Sh4.5 billion being used for personal emoluments and Sh2.1 billion going towards operations and maintenance in the fiscal 2020/21.

Ward development

Baringo used only Sh243 million on development with a whopping Sh2.81 billion going to recurrent expenditure.

Elgeyo Marakwet set aside Sh2.25 billion for recurrent expenditure, using only Sh520 million for development.

Kericho County, on the other hand, used Sh2.64 billion on recurrent expenses, with only Sh698 million going to development projects.

In Narok, Governor Samuel Ole Tunai spent Sh4.4 billion on recurrent expenditure, with only Sh728 million going to ward development projects.

The report showed that all the 47 counties assigned a cumulative Sh172.93 billion to recurrent expenditure.

In Nakuru, Ms Kihika will have to contend with a burgeoning wage bill, set to hit Sh7.3 billion by the end of 2022.

In the past two years, the county recruited more employees, adding 5,000 staff on its payroll.

MCAs and the civil society have been piling pressure on outgoing Governor Lee Kinyanjui to ensure that ‘only productive, and required’ staff are retained on the payroll.