Siaya Governor James Orengo has admitted that the county treasury is ‘rotten’.
It follows claims of unexplained withdrawals of about Sh400 million from the county’s coffers.
The governor was reacting to an exposé published by the Nation on Wednesday on suspicious, serious financial impropriety and administrative malpractices in the county government that saw large sums of money withdrawn during the campaign period in July and August.
To him, the revelation was ‘not news’, saying it only justifies his decision to carry out a forensic audit as he fights endemic and systemic corruption in Siaya.
“Indeed, without mincing words, the treasury in Siaya is rotten. The public is aware that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is also conducting investigations of cases of misappropriation within the county government. That is the right thing to do and must be expedited,” said Mr Orengo.
The Siaya County government is also on the EACC radar over alleged misappropriation of Sh600 million by officials in the previous administration.
The Nation exposé spotlighted senior Siaya administration officials over unexplained expenditures of about Sh406 million transacted within 12 days before the August elections.
In total disregard of a moratorium on payments of allowances and pending bills, some staff from the Finance department paid themselves hefty cash during the transition period.
It is also not clear how the executive channelled around Sh11.25 million to some Siaya County Assembly clerks despite the latter having a separate vote.
A Nation review of the payment details revealed that they were made on July 4, with three of the clerks receiving up to five payments in one day, ranging between Sh650,000 and Sh716,000.
Between August 1 and September 6, Siaya staff in the Finance department paid themselves hefty amounts of money despite a moratorium against payment of allowances.
But it also emerged that those whose names appear on the list are junior staff being used as conduits with ‘the big fish’ trying to conceal their identities by not appearing anywhere in the IFMIS system.
In most cases, the junior staff, most of whom are rewarded by being assured that they will keep their jobs, did not get a single coin from the greedy bosses, yet their accounts were used for the dubious transactions that have now put them in conflict with the law.
Finance Chief officer Hezbone Kadullo Mariwa confirmed that the payments were made, but maintained that it was money the assembly had lent to the executive from their vote head.
But in a September 28 statement, Mr Orengo directed that payments of pending bills stop until they are verified and confirmed, save for essential services and emergencies.
The revelation came about a week after Mr Orengo formed a task force to carry out a forensic audit of the financial operations of the local government, with a focus on the last two financial years.
The team is chaired by former Auditor-General Edward Ouko, while Rowena Stella Ndeda is the secretary.
Other members are political analyst Prof Adams Oloo, Dr Grace Ongile, Ms Bella Akinyi, Mr Jared Buoga and Dr Peter Joseph Okoth, the former CEO of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital. The Institute of Economic Affairs will provide technical expertise and support.
The team is to conclude its work within 60 days and submit an interim report within 30 days.
Mr Orengo has frozen all procurements and the issuing of contracts until the task force completes its work.
“The county is directed not to pay or engage in any financial transactions without my direct authority until advised otherwise,” Mr Orengo said.
“I want to assure the people of Siaya that nothing and nobody will be spared within the context of a comprehensive and decisive strategy and solution to this problem.”
His comments came as other county leaders, including Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi, demanded that action be taken against officials mentioned in the exposé.
“I urge the governor to send County Secretary Joseph Ogutu on leave and sack all staff in the county treasury. This rot is deep,” Mr Atandi said.
Mr Chris Owalla, a rights activist and governance expert, said forming a task force is not enough, asking the governor to give rights groups and other stakeholders observer status in the process.
“We need to monitor the process of the audit and we are ready to support social audits around some of the projects in Siaya,” Mr Owala said.
He said the EACC took forever to investigate cases, demanding that citizens be at the frontline in preventing corruption.
Mr Owalla, the Community Initiative Action Group director, also proposed rewarding outstanding staff who do the right thing, saying this was one way of sustaining the war on graft.
“To sustain this anti-corruption war, good civil servants that are honest should be rewarded so that their work is appreciated because this may go a long way in preventing them from joining the corrupt,” Mr Owalla said.