Clash looms as senators out to trim MCAs’ oversight role

Moses Kajwang

Senate Public Accounts Committee Chairperson Moses Kajwang (left) and member Okiya Omtatah during a session at KICC, Nairobi on November 20, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Currently, the MCAs oversight the county assemblies and the executive.
  • Senator Kajwang’ said MCAs should oversee only funds created by legislation passed by the county assembly.

 A major clash is looming between senators and MCAs over the oversight of funds spent by county assemblies.

Senators have accused Members of the County Assemblies of conflict of interest.

And in a radical proposal, senators now want the ward representatives denied absolute oversight over expenditure by county assemblies and certain funds spent by the county executive.

 The latest development comes amid a push for law change by the Senate County Public Accounts Committee to limit MCAs’ absolute oversight mandate over county assemblies and some funds expended by the county executive.

The Senate County Public Accounts Committee Chairperson, Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’ argued that oversight of county assemblies should be an exclusive mandate of the Senate.

Currently, the MCAs oversight the county assemblies and the executive. They examine the financial books of all funds received and spent by the two arms of county governments.

But in the new proposal that could trigger a supremacy battle between senators and MCAs, the Senate watchdog committee is pushing to limit the oversight mandate of the ward representatives.

Senator Kajwang’ said MCAs should oversee only funds created by legislation passed by the county assembly but any funds established by national legislation be overseen by the Senate.

 “We need to have a conversation around oversight. Oversight of financial statements arising out of regulation of the county assembly should be done by the county assembly, exclusively,” Mr Kajwang said.

 “What are these regulations? Liquor fund regulations, bursaries and all those funds established by regulations of the country assembly. The Senate does not have to come into it,” he added.

The funds that the Senate should have an absolute mandate to scrutinise usage, according to the committee, include the County Revenue Fund and the County Emergency Fund which are established by the national law.

 “It will bring about some neatness. Let us clear these things so that we can have a conversation on how to restructure oversight,” said the third-term senator.

“But you will not be able to oversee the executive, if this is the state of affairs because you need certain skills to look at the books of the executive,” he added.

The latest move follows frustrations by the committee to check audit reports by the Nairobi County Assembly.

Committee members lamented that they were being denied financial documents by the assembly’s leadership, and their attempts to summon Clerk Edward Gichana have failed.

The clerk of a county assembly is the chief accounting officer and is mandated to explain financial expenditures before any watchdog committee.

In Parliament, the Senate clerk, who’s the Chief Executive Officer of the Parliamentary Service Commission, appears before the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly to respond to audit queries.

 “When we issue summons to the clerk, he is supposed to sign the same summons. He does not do that. He ends up not appearing,” Kileleshwa MCA Robert Alai said.

The City Assembly has had damning audit reports, with Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu rendering adverse opinions in the last four financial years.

An adverse opinion implies that the county assembly’s financial statements are distorted, and misstated and do not accurately reflect its financial performance and health.

This forced the committee to direct Ms Gathungu to conduct a forensic audit of expenditure by the assembly for the last four financial years.

Further, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) was asked to launch investigations into the misappropriation of more than Sh1.3 billion to unearth individuals behind the mess.

Mr Kajwang’ said the assembly’s watchdog committee is dead with its primary oversight wanting and controls completely non-functional.

According to the report, the assembly was flagged over persistent material breach in the financial records as they could not conclusively account for the Sh1.3 billion the assembly received in the fiscal year ended June 2021.

It was further revealed that the Assembly could also not support some expenditures with documents and in some instances, officers made payments without authorisation, persistent in the county since the inception of the Assembly in 2013.

Of all the 27 queries raised by the auditor in the financial year ended June 2021, the leadership had only responded to one comprehensively.

 “What we have been treated to is beyond audit. Documents signed by an interdicted officer cannot be admissible before the committee. EACC must carry out a forensic audit of the Nairobi County Assembly while the DCI must move and determine criminal culpability because the issues in the Assembly go beyond Audit. We cannot process a report that is a forgery on its face,” said Mr Kajwang’.

This is after it emerged that an unauthorised person signed the financial statements for the financial year under review.

The committee also resolved to write to the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya to investigate and discipline two of its members working at the Assembly for professional negligence.

For his part, Mr Gichana and Speaker Ken Ng’ondi told the committee that at the time of the audit, they had six acting clerks and three acting Speakers, a move they said could have seen massive plunder of the resources.

 “We had six acting clerks at the time. We had three Speakers. You can imagine the kind of mess we were in. The assembly was in total mess,” said Mr Ng’ondi. 

During the year under review, the Assembly had Beatrice Elachi (now Dagoretti North MP), Chege Mwaura and Benson Mutura as Speakers while clerks included Gichana, Jacob Ngwele, Pauline Akuku, Castro Otieno and Adah Anyango; the last three in an acting capacity.