Governor Arati on the spot over payroll fraud in Kisii County

Simba Arati

Kisii County Governor Simba Arati before the County Public Accounts Committee at KICC, Nairobi County on May 22, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

A Senate watchdog committee on Monday May 22 faulted Kisii Governor Simba Arati for inaction over glaring payroll manipulation that has left the county government grappling with a bloated annual wage bill of Sh5.7 billion.

The senators accused the governor of trying to cover up the rot in the county’s human resource department by ordering for a fresh audit before acting on a prior one.

The development comes after the governor, while appearing before the Senate County Public Accounts Committee, could not explain actions he has taken to remedy the human resource malpractices, more than eight months since assuming office.

The county chief was appearing before the committee to answer to a damning audit report by the National Treasury that flagged several human resource irregularities including shared payroll numbers and bank accounts, amended birth dates, and identical identification numbers, among others.

Others are double payments, staff working for both the national government and the county government and same birth dates.

The committee chaired by Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’ raised concerns over the county’s bloated wage bill standing at Sh5.7 billion annually, translating to 58 percent of its revenue.

According to the panel, the unsustainable wage bill has been caused by the county government paying salaries to non-existent staff.

Describing the rot unearthed in the county government by an audit by the National Treasury as payroll fraud, Senator Kajwang’ said there is a huge human resource problem in the county government.

“Why are you wasting public funds on another audit when you are saying there is no problem in the county government? There is a big problem in Kisii and that is why we are here,” said Mr Kajwang’.

“You cannot speak from both sides of the mouth saying on one side there is no problem but point out problems in your explanations,” he added.

Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka asked the governor why he had not reported the revelations of payroll fraud unearthed by the Treasury’s audit to investigating agencies over the raised irregularities.

“You have done nothing since taking over despite glaring issues raised by the National Treasury report. Instead you began a new audit,” said Senator Onyonka.

Nominated Senator Mariam Sheikh Omar termed the ongoing fresh audit a waste of public money as what the county is investigating is already captured by the audit report by the National Treasury.

For her part, Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo wondered why the governor was saying there is no problem at the county government yet he paraded staff and vehicles after taking oath of office and told the public of 1,200 ghost workers at the county government.

“He is here now telling us there is no problem. There is a lot of contradiction and it seems you are swallowed by the confusion there and if this continues then you are going to be in a lot of trouble,” said Ms Dullo.

Nyandarua Senator John Methu asked Governor Arati where he got the information about the ghost workers.

In his defense, Governor Arati said the ongoing audit is to ascertain the veracity of the earlier audit report, saying that it could be that officers in the previous administration could have wanted to clear themselves.

“We are answering to mistakes committed by other people in the previous government like the Finance CEC,” he said.

But Senator Kajwang’ took the governor to task to explain administrative action he had taken on officers he suspects could have committed the irregularities citing the human resource director he had retained from the Governor James Ongwae administration.

“If you are going to blame the outgoing governor then you must also blame the county secretary, the county public service board and the human resource director and the four must take responsibility,” said Mr Kajwang’.

“Are you covering for the HR director and blaming those who have left? Is it that in Kisii people are bad or good depending on the political decisions they made in the last elections?” he posed.

Cornered, the governor admitted to problems at the county government and said that is why they are carrying out the current audit.