Pain for Taita County employees over three month salary delay

County Secretary (CS) Liverson Mghendi (centre) in a previous interview at Moi County Referral Hospital. He is accompanied by Health CEC John Mwakima (right), county public service board chairperson Alfred Mlolwa among other Health officials.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group.

About 3,000 Taita Taveta county employees are bracing for hard times after the employer announced another salary delay occasioned by late disbursement of funds from Treasury.

For two months, the workers have gone without salary after receiving their January and February payments in March.

Through an internal memo, the county secretary Liverson Mghendi announced that there would be a salary delay for the months of March and April and asked for patience as they wait for funds from the national government.

"The last exchequer release of funds from the National Treasury was for the month of January whilst the county government has paid salaries up to February, 2021. We shall however process the same once the funds are released," he stated.

Workers and their union representatives narrated how life has become unbearable especially for the low earning staff.

Some of them revealed that they have been asked by their landlords to pay their rent or vacate their houses over frequent defaulting of rent payment.

A county worker, Josphat Majaliwa says he is now struggling to feed his family due to the occasional salary delays by the county government.

The 52-year old has been forced to relocate to his rural home in Eldoro, Taveta sub county after his rental house was locked by his landlord in Mwatate last month due to a two month rent arrears.

"Dear our esteemed tenant, we hope this finds you well. Be notified all due rents should be cleared before March 1, 2021 failure to which your house will be locked. Kindly plan to clear your rent in time. Athsall Investment Limited Mwatate," read the message from his landlord.

Mr Majaliwa who works in the Finance department as a budget officer said he could not afford to pay Sh6,000 shillings because of the salary delays that made him accumulate debts from banks, mobile loans and friends.

The father of four says it has been difficult to even pay school fees for his son who is currently in university because of lack of a stable income.
He has also been slapped with penalties due to a Sh1 million loan he took at a local bank.

"The repayment duration was six years but it seems I will pay for more than seven years," he said.

He says his wife is now forced to do menial jobs to put food on the table for the family whose bread winner has now been rendered bankrupt.

"I told my bosses about my predicament but we were told to work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I decided to come to my rural home," he said.

Another worker who sought anonymity for fear of discrimination by her supervisors said they live in constant debts accumulated due to the delayed salaries.

She said she is struggling to make ends meet due to the perennial salary delays.

She has been stuck in a vicious cycle of borrowing from one mobile loan provider to another to cater for her day-to-day needs.

"Even the local shop keepers and vegetable vendors no longer give me food on credit because I have accumulated huge debts," she said.

The county employees have also been subjected to untold pain and suffering owing to the withholding of statutory deductions by the devolved unit.

The Kenya County Government Workers Union branch Secretary Freygod Shwashwa said some employees have been blacklisted by banks and can no longer access loans.

To make the matters worse, he said, they are also denied crucial services including coverage by National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) because the county government has not remitted the contributions.

"The medical facilities tell us we cannot access treatment just because the deductions have not been transmitted by our employer. We pay out of pocket when we fall sick," he said.

On April 15, Treasury disbursed Sh10.6 billion equitable share of revenue to the counties. The Council of Governors (CoG) said the National Treasury was holding onto Sh83 billion meant for the counties for December to April allocations.

Treasury owes the Nairobi Metropolitan Service Sh3.9 billion for the month of December and January while Sh26 billion, Sh25 billion and Sh28 billion were yet to be disbursed to the 47 counties for the month of February, March and April consecutively.

The CoG said the cash crunch has grounded operations in the counties with some of the services being put on hold until funds are available.

This week, Taita Taveta asked all its County Executive Committee (CEC) members to take their annual leave days as an austerity measure to minimise its spending. Drivers attached to the county officials were also ordered to proceed on leave and hand over keys of the vehicles to the county secretary.

Currently, the devolved unit's wage bill stands at Sh2.6 billion annually which translates to 42 per cent of the county's recurrent budget.

"In a month, we pay a net salary of up to Sh215 million," said county executive for Finance Andrew Kubo.

In the Sh6.9 billion 2021/2022 budget, the county plans to spend Sh2.4 billion on salaries.