Thousands of workers in at least 20 counties across the country have gone without salaries for up to two months, with the National Treasury being blamed for delays in disbursing funds to the devolved units.
Staff in the counties are now struggling to foot their bills and feed their families.
Tales of pain and suffering dominate the lives of county government workers in various counties.
Many of them told the Nation that they live in constant debts accumulated due to the delayed salaries.
In some of the counties that have paid their employees in the past three months, some governors have had to divert budgets from other critical services, as others took bank overdrafts and loans.
Several employees who sought anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the matter, revealed their frustrations due to the salary delays.
“Employees are frustrated because of the delayed payment. Our morale is so low, even if we reported to work today. 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 county employee.
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.”
Counties have not received money from the National Treasury since November last year, when the last disbursement was made, further paralysing critical dockets like agriculture, health and early development education in most of the counties.
According to Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa, who is the Council of Governors (COG) chairman of the Finance, Planning and Economic Affairs Committee, the delays are negatively affecting the delivery of services in the regions, including the implementation of key projects.
“The 47 counties are owed 31.45 billion in January 2023 and Sh31.45 billion for February. The counties have also not received disbursements amounting to Sh29.6 billion for March,” Governor Barasa told the Nation.
“There is no development taking place and critical dockets like agriculture, health and education have been hurt,” the county boss said.
The Nation learnt that in some counties, early childhood development education teachers and health workers are yet to receive their pay for up to two months, demoralising many.
The affected counties include Tharaka-Nithi, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Marsabit, Murang’a, Laikipia, Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga, Nyamira, Kisii and Kisumu.
In Tharaka-Nithi, for instance, employees are yet to be paid March salary even as statutory deductions for the past two months are yet to be remitted.
In an interview, the Kenyan National Union of Nurses (Knun) Tharaka-Nithi County branch executive secretary, Mr Fabian Marigu, revealed that they received their January and February salaries last week.
“We have not been paid the March salary and statutory deductions have not been remitted for the past two months apart from the National Health Insurance Fund,” said Mr Marigu.
An employee in the county who sought anonymity, for fears of reprisals, also disclosed that they received their February salaries on March 31.
“We received our February pay on March 31 after the governor took a bank overdraft. We have really suffered and we ask the national government to intervene and speed up the release of the money to counties,” the officer told the Nation.
In Kisumu, the cash crunch has already gripped the critical health sector after the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU) started downing their tools on April 1, following a two-month salary delay.
The nurses, pharmacists and clinical workers have also vowed to follow suit if their salary arrears are not settled by Friday.
KMPDU Kisumu branch chairman Dr Steve Ndong’a said the county government has also failed to remit statutory deductions, including National Health Insurance Fund, Higher Education Loans Board repayments, taxes and personal loan deductions.
In Nyamira County, staff have not been paid their dues for two months.
Employees who confided to the Nation from the two counties said it has been difficult to operate for months without pay.
“I survive on loans. And when we are finally paid, which is done in bits, I end up getting negatives on my account,” said a Nyamira County staff.
But Kisii County Governor Simba Arati said delays by the National Treasury have paralysed county operations.
“We are asking the Exchequer to disburse devolution funds in good time,” said Mr Arati.
The governor said many counties are now surviving on overdrafts from banks to run some of their critical programmes.
“In Marsabit County, staff have reportedly gone for at least two months without pay, as the available funds were channelled into aiding the 821 flash flood victims.
According to one of the workers who sought anonymity, life has continued to be unbearable to many employees.
In Council of Governors chairperson Anne Waiguru’s Kirinyaga County, employees are yet to be paid their March salaries.
The workers complained that the devolved government has taken too long to release their dues. "We are suffering because we have not been paid. How does the county expect us to meet our financial obligations without money," one of the employees wondered.
Weeks ago, the Nyandarua County government urged its employees to brace themselves for hard times over anticipated salary payment delays.
Acting County Secretary, Muigai Wainaina, in an internal communique told the employees that their salaries for the month of February and possibly for the coming months will be late.
“The National Treasury has not released disbursement for the month of February which has occasioned the delay,” said the county secretary in a memo dated March 7.
“Before the current regime came into office, our salary would hit our bank accounts five days to the end of the month. Nowadays salary delays are becoming a common thing,” said an employee.
In Laikipia, employees have accused the county administration of failing to remit salary deductions meant for checkoff loan payments.
“A good number of my colleagues have been listed in the CRB for defaulting on loan payments,” a worker said.
In Murang'a County, casuals complained that they have not been paid salaries since January.
“This is the period that we were enrolling our children into Form One, junior secondary and universities. The emergency loans that we have procured to survive are crushing,” said a worker.
Finance Executive Prof Joseph Mwaura said: “There is a technical hitch in some departments and we are requiring all affected to report to the headquarters so that we can verify the arrears."
Also affected are the Western Kenya counties of Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma and Busia. Kakamega County, for instance, has been negotiating for loans from banks for the past four months to pay its employees.
In Vihiga, the February salary for the more than 2,000 workers was delayed for over a month but was paid late last month. The staff are yet to get their March salary.
Governor Wilber Ottichilo said his administration is in talks with a consortium of banks to address the issue of delayed salaries to offer a permanent solution.
Bungoma and Busia are grappling with similar financial challenges, with workers saying they were yet to be paid their salaries for March.
In Mombasa medical staff have been paid their March and February salaries.
In Taita-Taveta, workers received their February salaries last week.
Reporting by Eric Matara, Benson Amadala, Victor Raballa, Steve Njuguna, Alex Njeru, Ruth Mbula, Jacob Walter, George Munene, Mwangi Muiruri ,Derick Luvega, Kalume Kazungu, Winnie Atieno, Lucy Mukanyika and Angeline Ochieng.