Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo at pains to explain billions owed to contractors

Governor Wilber Ottichilo

Governor Wilber Ottichilo addresses members of the County Public Investments and Special Funds Committee at the KICC in Nairobi in early October. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Senators have put Governor Wilber Ottichilo on the spot over pending bills incurred by the county government amounting to billions of shillings.

This comes after it emerged that Governor Ottichilo’s administration gave contradicting figures over what it owes to contractors and suppliers.

The damning revelations emerged during a Senate Finance and Budget Committee hearing, where the second-term governor was asked to explain the debts.

The committee is considering visiting the county to physically verify projects after pending bills rose by a whopping Sh836 million in the financial year ended June 2023.

Appearing before the committee chaired by Mandera Senator Ali Roba, Governor Ottichilo said the county has outstanding bills amounting to Sh1.19 billion.

However, the figure differs with the initial amount of Sh1.30 billion declared by the county government.

“What exactly is the amount of pending bills because we have three figures that the county government declared? There is Sh1.13 billion, Sh1.21 billion and now you are saying Sh1.19 billion,” said Mr Roba.

“The right thing to do is for the committee to go to Vihiga and physically check if these projects actually exist,” he added.

The committee is investigating the county government's pending bills following a petition by Senator Godfrey Osotsi.

In his response, Governor Ottichilo said the latest figure of Sh1.19 billion was arrived at by a committee he established to verify the authenticity of the bills.

“The auditor-general came, did the audit and gave us her figures. She declared some as ineligible and others eligible, but we still had so many complaints from people. That’s why we decided to form the audit committee,” said Mr Ottichilo.

The governor told the committee that his administration had cleared the bills that were declared eligible. He added that, during the Covid-19 pandemic period, his administration received Sh60 million from the national government to aid in the fight against the scourge.

“We were supposed to use the cash to fight the pandemic. Through consultation with the Ministry of Health, we agreed to use the money to improve facilities, especially the ICU [intensive care unit],” he said.

Consequently, he said, the county built a five-bed ICU unit and the contractors were duly paid.

Senator Osotsi asked the governor to explain why, even after Covid-19, the county has continued to accumulate more pending bills.

“It’s shocking that, in 2022-2023 alone, we incurred a bill of Sh836 million,” Mr Osotsi said. Kakemega Senator Boni Khalwale told the governor to clear the outstanding bills or face prosecution.

“Our people are suffering because the county government owes them billions,” he said.

Factored the projects

Committee vice-chairperson and nominated senator Tabitha Mutinda asked how the county government had incurred the huge bills yet it had factored the projects in its budget.

“This is something we need to raise with the Council of Governors. Counties that have accumulated such huge bills should dedicate all their own-source revenues to paying the bills,” she said.

Mr Roba Said:“We cannot refuse to pay someone who has worked just because there are some issues with documentation. Such people must be paid.”

Governor Ottichilo protested at what he termed as discrimination against his county by the Commission on Revenue Allocation.

“Vihiga has been removed from the Equalisation Fund yet 70 per cent of the county is rocky. You cannot plant anything there. Our neighbours, Kakemega, Busia and even Bungoma, are getting money from the Equalisation Fund. Which criteria are they using?” Mr Ottichilo posed.

He said he has written a protest letter to the CRA.