State House aide Nanok sucked into multi-billion shillings county scandal

Former Turkana County Governor Josphat Nanok.

State House Deputy Chief of Staff Josphat Nanok.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • According to the auditor, this expenditure was Sh200 million more than the previous year when there were no travel restrictions or cancelled meetings.
  • The county spent only Sh1.2 billion on development during the financial year while residents continue to struggle with lack of water, proper healthcare and education.

The spectre of over Sh5 billion allegedly inflated in pending bills has come to haunt the administration of former Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok, now President William Ruto’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

This comes as the former administration was questioned on daily domestic travel and per diem expenses amounting to Sh3.8 million in the financial year ending June 2021, yet the government had limited meetings due to Covid-19.

In a damning audit report examined by the Senate County Public Accounts Committee (CPAIC) yesterday in Lodwar, Turkana County, Auditor General Nancy Gathungu's sought answers to the questionable expenditure of millions of taxpayers' money.

The Auditor General has questioned the expenditure of Sh1.4 billion on domestic travel and subsistence during the period under review.

According to the auditor, this expenditure was Sh200 million more than the previous year when there were no travel restrictions or cancelled meetings.

Appearing before the committee, Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai revealed that on assuming office, he declared an outstanding bill of Sh7.2 billion in his handover report.

However, after verification, he told the senators that the eligible pending bills amounted to only Sh2.16 billion, with the rest being ineligible pending bills.

Interestingly, the county government spent only Sh1.2 billion on development during the financial year while residents continue to struggle with lack of water, proper healthcare and education.

The chairman of the committee, Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang', described the previous government as a "criminal enterprise" and called on the Economic and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to launch investigations into the shocking revelations and recommend that those found be prosecuted.

"How did Sh7.2 billion get into the system before it turned out to be only Sh2.16 billion? Sh5 billion is not a small amount of money and this is the first time we have seen such a huge discrepancy in this committee," Mr Kajwang' said.

He claimed the previous government's action was meant to fleece the already marginalised residents of at least Sh5 billion.

"Someone must be held accountable to ensure that action is taken against the fraudsters. You cannot claim Sh5 billion and get away with it," he added.

Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka described the spending on domestic travel and per diems as an unnecessary and wanton waste of public funds.

"It's heartbreaking to see you spending billions on travel and per diems when your people don't have water, medicine and proper education," the senator said, fighting back tears.

The previous government also came under fire for paying Sh3 million to the Council of Governors to fund its operations and a similar amount to the Frontier Development Council, an amorphous regional bloc.

The audit report further revealed a questionable variation in the contract for the construction of the county headquarters, which has been under construction since 2015, from Sh695 million to Sh809.8 million.

"The variation appears to be calculated to avoid violating the law, as it is at the 25 per cent permissible limit. When we see such things, we know that games are being played," said Mr Kajwang'.

The former administration has also been accused of failing to declare assets inherited from the defunct municipality since the start of devolution, with even a task force set up in 2017 to review the county government's asset register doing nothing.

"We have to deal with people who 'ate' money but never gave us the true position of our assets and liabilities," said Governor Lomorukai.

The auditor also flagged the county government for spending Sh3.8 billion annually on 3,908 employees as the committee accused the county of having a bloated workforce.

There was also an abnormal increase in other personnel payments, which rose from Sh9 million in the financial year ending June 2020 to a staggering Sh297 million in the following financial year.

The county government tried to defend the astonishing jump in expenditure, saying it was caused by the payment of arrears owed to the Kenya Revenue Authority and additional expenditure as a result of promotions.

But the committee questioned the explanation, with Senator Kajwang' ordering the county government to provide a list of payments within seven days to determine whether the expenditure was a proper charge.

"It means that money has been stolen from the Turkana people. This must have been a criminal enterprise with many players including the Chief Finance Officer, the Head of Human Resources, the County Public Service Board and others," said Mr Kajwang'.

"There are people who must have signed for the expenditure of the funds and they must be brought to book," he added.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna agreed: "This was indeed a criminal enterprise and those responsible should bear their own cross by being charged because there are no documents to support the payments."

The anomalies also extended to an unexplained Sh44.8 million discrepancy between the figures in the payroll and those in the financial statements in relation to staff salaries.

"If the figures do not add up, we need a proper explanation of where the Sh44.8 million went and not just verbal explanations," Mr Kajwang' said.

The failure of county officials to hand over Sh26.9 million in imprest accounts was also questioned by the committee and ordered to be recovered within a month or the CEC's finances would be penalised.

During the period under review, the county government was again cited for awarding tenders without due diligence and implementing projects without conducting feasibility studies.

"Action must be taken against officials with certain responsibilities to stop this," Mr Kajwang' said.

The governor said he had set up a task force to investigate the anomalies, particularly in the payment of salaries, as he suspected there might be ghost workers.

Describing the system he inherited as "totally rotten", he said he had carried out a reshuffle to try to restore sanity.

"I found a lot of anomalies in the payroll when I took over. The discrepancies in salaries are a clear indication that something is wrong," the governor said.

"There are a lot of cartels in the system and you cannot remove them, so I decided to do a reshuffle in the meantime," he added.