Counties’ Covid spending exposes lack of planning

Council of Governors Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya (right) addressing the press.  Counties will start receiving their cash today.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • On PPEs, Mandera spent the most (Sh245. 48 million), followed by Kakamega at Sh207.62 million, while Kilifi came third at Sh182.15 million.
  • Hotel, food, and accommodation costs stood at Sh30.22 million, with Mandera spending a whopping Sh66.7 million to host its medical teams in hotels.

  • The Nation’s analysis shows that, Machakos spent Sh214.72 million, followed by Kiambu at Sh129.49, and Kakamega Sh85 million.

Counties spent Sh1 billion on allowances for healthcare workers, Covid-19 committees, and county and security officials in the first three months of the pandemic. 

An analysis carried out by the Nation on the “Special Budget Review Implementation Report on the Utilisation of Funds by County Governments towards Covid-19 Interventions” tabled before the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Covid-19 situation in the country, shows that Kiambu and Machakos lead in paying hefty allowances.

The analysis also shows that, the counties spent a combined total of Sh2.3 billion on direct Covid-19-related budget items, including buying Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), hand sanitisers and face masks.

The spend included what was already incurred as well as what the counties had committed to pay by July 31, as contained in the reports submitted to Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o.

On PPEs, Mandera spent the most (Sh245. 48 million), followed by Kakamega, which is headed by Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, at Sh207.62 million, while Kilifi came third at Sh182.15 million.

In July, Mr Oparanya asked his colleagues to closely monitor how the funds were spent: “Governors should ensure that these funds are responsibly managed. Our role will be to ensure that the full impact of the support from the national government is felt for the next three months.”

Covid-19 activities

From the analysis, however, it is emerging that counties lacked a clear spending plan, which saw the bulk of the funds go into non-core Covid-19 activities, with both the spending and financial commitments raising queries.

“Even on spending, there was no clear procurement plan by counties as shown in the Controller of Budget report. It was very haphazard,” Ndung’u Wainaina, the Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict told the Nation. Counties’ spending pattern, he added, tended to mirror the national government’s.

Read: Covid-19: Counties spend Sh11bn to boost preparedness levels

“Given that the national government’s initial approach to the pandemic was as a security rather than health issue, the counties adopted this, making it very difficult to adhere to procurement regulations,” Mr Wainaina said. He noted that, counties adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

For instance, from the analysis, the counties spent Sh2.81 billion in sprucing up facilities, creating isolation centres and other medical interventions. This raises queries on where annual health development budgets counties have been receiving since 2013 have gone to.

As the country was racing towards strengthening health systems, with the debate on the number of intensive care units (ICUs) raging on, it was only Migori, Trans Nzoia, Murang’a, Wajir, Kilifi, and Kakamega that actually budgeted for and spent funds in increasing, or building new ICU units, data from the Controller of Budget shows.

Some counties like Tana River and Lamu, which did not have any ICU beds, still failed to buy them.

It was also telling that the counties spent over Sh106.18 million on fuel on average, translating to a million litres at an average of Sh106 per litre. Taita-Taveta was the biggest spender on this category (Sh24.78 million) driven by its purchase of two vehicles at Sh19 million.

Medical teams in hotels

Hotel, food, and accommodation costs stood at Sh30.22 million, with Mandera spending a whopping Sh66.7 million to host its medical teams in hotels.

The analysis also shows that counties spent Sh549.42 million to cushion vulnerable families with the top spender, Nakuru, accounting for 259.73 million.

Read: Makueni exemplary, Kiambu mum on use of Covid-19 funds

It was also interesting that only nine counties had relief food as a budget vote, despite millions of Kenyans losing their jobs because of containment measures.

Figures show that the counties spent Sh1.4 billion to put up isolation facilities, and yet most of them have not achieved the 300-bed capacity requirement and, even for those that did, the facilities remain empty.

“Counties should first have established surveillance systems, set up contact-tracing teams, and boosted testing capacity, before identifying how the isolation centres would be set up and mapped. But what we had was the opposite, where the centres were established before counties knew whether the patients would come. Most counties, if not all, did not have testing, tracking and surveillance capacity. It explains why these centres are now empty,” Mr Wainaina said.

The analysis also shows that, four counties spent the biggest chunk of their allocations on health workers. The counties spent Sh980.9 million to pay medics’ allowances from March 31 to July 31, with Kiambu, Kakamega, and Machakos counties as the highest spenders.

The Nation’s analysis shows that, Machakos spent Sh214.72 million, followed by Kiambu at Sh129.49, and Kakamega Sh85 million.

This comes even as officials from several counties are being investigated for alleged pilfering. Leads the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is pursuing are claims of overpricing of goods, buying substandard products, and tender awards to relatives and cronies,  as chief executive Twalib Mbarak told the Nation in an earlier interview.

In her report, Ms Nyakang’o said that, as of July 31, county governments had spent Sh3.43 billion out of Sh13.1 billion disbursed to implement Covid-19 interventions since March.

The money — released from March 13 when the country reported its first case, to July 31 — consisted of Sh5 billion from the national government through the Ministry of Health for quarantine and isolation.

Ms Nyakang’o also said that, the self-reporting expenditure statement by the counties also consists of Sh2.36 billion from the national government for allowances of frontline healthcare workers, Sh350 million from the Danish Aid Agency (Danida) as grant support to levels two and three hospitals, and Sh5.39 billion from counties’ own funds.

Demanding more money

With this amorphous spending, last week Mr Oparanya led his fellow governors in demanding more money.

Today, the governors plan to raise with President Kenyatta the issue of opaqueness in the use of Covid-19 funds during a virtual Covid-19 conference.

They also plan to discuss with the Head of State the lack of a structured engagement with the Ministry of Health and the need for authorisation to by-pass the much-maligned Kenya Medical Supplies Agency in procuring medical items.

aolingo@ke.nationmedia.com