City Hall Nairobi

City Hall in Nairobi. The cost of hiring lawyers has been a hot potato at City Hall, with the legal department coming under fire repeatedly for paying exorbitant fees to certain law firms.

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Law firms making a killing at City Hall

The cost of hiring lawyers has been a hot potato at City Hall, with the legal department coming under fire repeatedly for paying exorbitant fees to certain law firms.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is looking into several cases of questionable payments to certain law firms.

In 2018, the legal department was on the spot for spending Sh480 million, beyond the allocated budget of Sh100 million, in the financial year to June 30, 2016.

The following year, the department was once again on the spot over Sh318 million paid to 12 law firms that represented the county government without approval documents.

An Auditor-General’s report in 2019 showed that the department’s legal costs for the financial year to June 30, 2017 was Sh645.3 million despite an approved budgetary allocation of just Sh105 million.

In the financial year that ended on June 30, 2019, City Hall spent Sh795.9 million of the Sh2.5 billion set aside for clearing all legal pending bills.

Fast-forward to 2021, and a county assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee report revealed that the Ann Kananu-led administration still outsources legal services and owes law firms Sh6.97 billion.

Late payments’ interest

Interestingly, the outstanding billions accrued only between 2017 and 2020, with late payments attracting interest of 14 per cent per annum under the advocates remuneration order.

The report laid bare the names of more than 100 firms that have done business with the county government.

Then there are law firms prequalified by the county government to offer services, but it is not clear whether they have done any business with City Hall or are owed any legal fees.

Payments for outsourced legal services have always been an area of contention at City Hall, with MCAs often questioning the fees.

The ward representatives have often taken the county attorney to task over the payment of millions to law firms though the county government has not won any case in the courts in recent years.

MCAs also accused the executive of prioritising the payment of millions in pending bills to lawyers at the expense of small-scale traders, who are owed lesser amounts.

In January this year, the EACC wrote to City Hall over an alleged payment of Sh500 million in legal fees to 25 law firms that worked for the county government between 2013 and 2020.

‘Suspicious and skewed’

In April, Minority Whip Peter Imwatok again wrote to the anti-graft agency and the DPP to investigate alleged “suspicious and skewed” payments to 13 law firms by City Hall.

In the letter, Mr Imwatok alleged that more than Sh410 million was irregularly paid to the law firms between February 9 and March 30 this year, with no information on the cases they handled.

So vicious are the fights over the payment of the legal fees that some MCAs pushed for the sacking of Nairobi County Attorney Lydia Kwamboka’s contract, citing incompetency, allegedly being in office irregularly and alleged conflict of interest.

Her crime was her refusal to pay a certain law firm Sh150 million without due process being followed.

The justice committee now wants City Hall to end the outsourcing of legal services.

The committee put the county government on the spot for continuing to outsource legal services instead of strengthening the county attorney's office.