Inside Awiti pre-poll deals that cost county billions of shillings

Cyprian Awiti

Former Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti when he appeared before a Senate Committee on November 14, 2019.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Awiti's administration on the spot over irregular hiring of 1,240 new staff.
  • The Awiti administration also left behind Sh1.2 billion in pending bills.

Former Governor Cyprian Awiti’s administration went on a hiring and spending spree months to the August 9 General Election, a Senate watchdog committee heard.

The county government was also involved a “suspicious” Sh194 million deal with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), which was inked a day to the swearing-in of current Governor Gladys Wanga.

The Senate Public Accounts Committee has now questioned the timing of the agreement. The watchdog committee that is chaired by Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’ was on Tuesday told the KRA deal was signed on August 24, 2022, a day before the swearing-in of Ms Wanga.

The committee heard that the negotiations came after the KRA had slapped the county government with a Sh602.2 million bill in penalties and interests after it failed to remit statutory deductions worth Sh1.36 billion. The Awiti administration even hired a law firm to lead the talks.

Appearing before the committee, Governor Wanga said she was not aware of the negotiations as it was never mentioned and only came up after her swearing-in.

“There was a lot of hurry to do things during the temporary incumbency period,” said the first-term governor.

She told the committee that her administration is now faced with a Sh43 million tax bill after the KRA reduced the amount from Sh194 million, which could have been avoided had the previous administration remitted deducted statutory benefits from staff.

“We found it disturbing and curious for an agreement of that magnitude to be done just a day before my swearing-in,” she said.

Gladys Wanga

Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga when she appeared before members of the Senate County Public Accounts Committee in Nairobi on June 18, 2024.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Senator Kajwang’ called for the surcharging of the county officers involved in what he called “financial malpractice”.

“Let the people responsible be prosecuted. Sh43 million cannot just be wished away,” he said.

Ms Wanga said there was a variance between the figures that were presented in the handover report and what her administration later found out.

The Awiti administration is also on the spot over irregular hiring of 1,240 new staff in a year without approval, vacancy advertisement or workforce audit.

According to reports by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu for the financial year ending June 2022, the move left the devolved unit grappling with an unsustainable wage bill of Sh4.09 billion, representing 53 percent of its Sh7.7 billion total revenue, increasing from the previous 37 percent.

The county government was also on the spot over unexplained voiding of transactions totalling Sh529 million.

“You cannot go through approvals then void a transaction without any other due process. This Sh529 million is not just a reconciliation issue but a case of altered beneficiaries and approvals where people get paid for what they did not do,” said Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka.

The Awiti administration also left behind Sh1.2 billion in pending bills, with only Sh272 million established to be legible, Sh534.2 million ineligible and Sh419.9 million requiring further action such as site visits for confirmation.

The debts owed to contractors and suppliers could have been manufactured during the transition, Mr Kajwang’ pointed out to Ms Wanga, seeing as many “decisions were being made during your swearing-in.” 

Ms Wanga said some contractors could not present proof of contract with the county government during the pending bills verification process.

The governor added that the county government has been left with a questionable bill of Sh171 million in legal fees accrued as a result of negligence.

“Some law firms were claiming millions despite having no case won in court,” she said.

To rectify the situation, the governor said, the devolved unit has since hired a county attorney, four principal legal officers, two legal officers and are in the process of getting a county solicitor.