Jitters as Governor Lelelit vows to pay ‘only genuine debts’ in Samburu

Samburu Governor Lati Lelelit says the plan is to increase school enrolment

Samburu County is auditing Sh700 million in pending bills to ascertain those that are eligible for payment, in efforts to streamline recurrent and development expenditure.

The move has caused jitters among local contractors and suppliers as Governor Jonathan Lelelit vowed to "pay only genuine debts". The bills have been a thorny issue in county government since the inception of devolution in 2013, with multiple audit reports showing that Samburu is using much of its equitable share to settle debts.

There are allegations that some of the pending bills were exaggerated by the previous administration, which is why a forensic audit is needed to ascertain genuine ones.

Governor Lelelit inherited about Sh700 million in pending bills from the previous government. He said his administration must ascertain the legality of the bills before making any payments. 

"We are going to pay only genuine bills. An audit is underway to ascertain if they are genuine or not. We cannot pay them blindly," Mr Lelelit said.

Last month, the governor unveiled a task force to recommend how to handle the bills. The panel is chaired by Sarafino Lesangurikuri, with Solomon Letirok, Wycliffe Machuka, Charles Leleruk and Penina Maloni as members.

But the county has not concluded a workforce audit to address the wage bill crisis. Mr Lelelit said the audit was to clean up the payroll and purge ghost workers who are earning money from the county in the comfort of their homes.

"The staff audit will ensure the wage bill reflects the correct number of employees against payroll numbers,” he said.

Previous audit reports showed that Samburu spends almost three quarters of its budget on salaries and other personal emoluments, with the wage bill exceeding the recommended 35 percent ceiling in Regulation 25 (1) (b) of the Public Finance Management.

The staff audit is also seen as a move by the county government to reduce its ballooning wage bill, which stands at Sh1.9 billion annually and eats into the development budget.