When the 2010 Constitution took effect, county government jobs seemed lucrative. But what was once considered the juiciest of apples in the world of employment is now one of the worst career decisions one can make.
Tales of pain and suffering rule the lives of civil servants in various counties, who have not received their salaries for about four months.
The affected counties are Tharaka-Nithi, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Marsabit, Murang’a, Laikipia, Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga, Nyamira, Kisii and Kisumu.
It’s still unclear when the workers will be paid, with President William Ruto publicly admitting that the government is facing financial turmoil and vowing not to borrow loans to pay salaries.
The Council of Governors (CoG) has demanded that the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u releases Sh125.8 billion owed to the counties before operations grind to a halt.
According to CoG chair Anne Waiguru, the central government owes all devolved units cumulative sums of Sh31.45 billion for January, Sh31.45 billion for February, Sh29.6 billion for March and Sh33.3 billion for April.
The Saturday Nation sought out a number of workers affected by the pay delays and the outcome points to one thing — struggle. They have devised different ways of surviving as an operational liquidity crunch bites the country.
After missing their pay for the last three months, a number of employees in Kisii and Nyamira counties are surviving on loans from friends and relatives working in the private sector and digital lenders to make ends meet.
“It is bad out here. My friends are nowadays not picking my calls. They think I am out to borrow money from them,” said a Kisii County staffer.
“I have several hair and beauty parlours and do not necessarily depend on my salary,” said another, who now survives on proceeds from her side hustles.
In Kisumu County, most of the workers are going hungry, unable to pay their rent and fare.
“Some of our workers’ houses have been locked by their landlords. Some cannot even come to work since they cannot afford to raise fare,” the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Kisumu Branch Secretary Craus Okumu said.
The non-payment of March salaries has mentally destabilised workers in Homa Bay County, even as the administration kept mum over the matter.
“Any further delays of the salaries will greatly affect those with statutory deductions and loans to service,” said the county’s civil servants’ union chairman Tom Akech.
Despite Vihiga County inking a deal with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) to help it pay salaries and statutory deductions whenever disbursements delay, the workers are yet to reap the benefits of the pact where the bank was to pay the workers so the county can reimburse them later.
The Kenya County Government Workers’ Union Vihiga chapter says delayed salaries has demoralised the workers. More than 2,000 staffers are yet to get their March pay and are unable to meet their everyday needs.
An officer with the Ministry of Public Works from Siaya County told the Saturday Nation that he is drowning in debts. The 40-year-old man is unable to meet the needs of his family, an ailing parent and a herdsman, all which depend on his salary.
“Things are thick. Times are hard. I have a child suffering from sickle cell anaemia and she needs drugs and regular check-ups. The delays are affecting the entire medication process,” he said.
Workers in various South Rift counties said their debts are piling by day.
“In as much as my colleagues and I have reported to work today, our morale has gone so low and this greatly affects our productivity. If there is no quick solution, we will have no option other than stay away from work. We are straining to pay rent and service other bills,” said a male county employee who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation.
He added: “When you leave home in the morning and return in the evening, children expect that you should carry with you some goodies for the family. They do not understand when you tell them you have no money.”
As a result of the delays, health workers in Nakuru, Nyandarua, Samburu, Narok, Laikipia, Bomet and Kericho counties for instance, have been unable to access credit facilities due to adverse credit ratings.
“It is unfortunate that medics continue to diligently render lifesaving health care services but due to the salary delays they are not able to cater for their needs or access proper healthcare services themselves,” said a medic in Nyandarua.
Speaking in Nyeri yesterday, Ms Waiguru lamented that lack of timely funding has negatively affected service delivery to Kenyans due to demoralised employees, and in some instances industrial action.
“Many of our staff are suffering and have hardly been able to report to work. Some counties have salary arrears of two months. I understand that the National Treasury is constrained, but even as they pay salaries of civil servants at the national level, they should remember that the 47 county governments also employ civil servants. They should consider counties before we grind to a halt,” Ms Waiguru said.
The admission points to a dire situation, even as the staffers struggle to render the services.
“As governors, we are reaching a point where counties are in danger of getting to a standstill. As a matter of fact, some of us are grounding some vehicles so that we allow those that offer critical services to operate,” she said.
With the salary delays, come other challenges like non-remittance of statutory deductions and issuance of agency notices by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). CoG says that KRA imposes penalties due to late payment of taxes occasioned by the delays.
“It also derails implementation of development projects, leads to under absorption of budgets, thus affecting counties’ plans for the ensuing financial year and hampers counties’ response measures towards emergencies such as floods, drought as well,” Ms Waiguru said.
Meanwhile in Nyandarua, the county assembly has allowed the county administration to go for short-term loans from local financial institutions to offset employees’ pending salaries. Nyandarua County staff are yet to be paid.
Reporting by Daniel Ogetta, Sharon Otieno, Eric Matara, Victor Raballa, Ruth Mbula, James Murimi, Steve Njuguna, George Odiwuor, Derrick Luvega, and Kassim Adinasi