Delayed pay: Civil servants set to go on strike amid looming crisis

The National Treasury building in Nairobi.

The National Treasury building in Nairobi.  

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Civil servants are set to go on strike to press the government to pay salary arrears, a move that could throw the public service into turmoil.

Thousands of government employees went for Easter holidays without March salaries and some county workers are owed up to three months’ worth of pay.

Yesterday, Nation learnt that two unions representing national and county government employees have notified the umbrella workers’ body, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu), of the intention by their members to boycott work.

Should the government employees walk out, it would be an unprecedented strike over delayed salaries, which has also affected MPs, as past national strikes have been about pay rises.

Cotu confirmed to Nation receipt of strike notices from the Union of Kenya Civil Servants and the Kenya County Government Workers Union, while medics in the North Rift region are already on strike.

Governors have protested at failure by the National Treasury to release money to the counties for the fourth consecutive month since December. By end of March, counties said they were owed Sh122.1 billion, with governors blaming the withheld cash for their failure to pay county workers’ salaries.

The counties are owed Sh29.6 billion for December, Sh31.45 billion for January and February each, and Sh29.6 billion for March.

This is the longest period that the devolved units have gone without receiving their equitable share of revenue from Treasury.

Members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) in Nandi County have boycotted work to demand three months’ salary arrears.

This follows the lapse of 60-day notice to North Rift counties to begin talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. KMPDU regional secretary, Dr Kamonzi Mulei, explained last week they decided to down their tools as some counties had failed to act.

On average, Treasury requires about Sh50 billion monthly for civil servants’ salaries and another Sh8 billion for payment of pensions.

With officials explaining that available funds were diverted to service maturing public debt, thousands of staff working in ministries, departments and agencies, including the electoral commission and the public broadcaster, became casualties of the delays with most going for Easter holidays without their March pay.

Public debt and statutory payments like pensions, which form the first charge on the Consolidated Fund, taking at least 65 per cent of revenue raised by the national government, are priority items for Treasury.

National Treasury Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo last month told the Senate County Public Investment and Special Funds Committee that Treasury spent Sh150 billion to repay public debt in March alone.

The administration owes State agencies Sh204 billion while the counties are demanding Sh92.5 billion, which is the equitable share for the months of January, February, and March.

Political parties are the latest victims of the cash crunch biting President William Ruto’s administration, with budget cuts of Sh590 million forcing the Registrar of Political Parties to suspend disbursements for the third quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.

“The office hereby informs you that due to austerity measures that were effected across the government through the supplementary estimates, the Political Parties Fund budget has experienced a budget cut of Sh590,646,000. The Fund budget has now been revised from the earlier communicated budget of Sh1,475,000,000 to Sh884,354,000,” Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu wrote to secretaries-general of parties in a letter dated April 4.

Ms Nderitu explained that, out of the revised estimates, Sh737,500,000 had been disbursed and the balance of Sh146, 854, 000 will be disbursed during the fourth quarter in view of a pending court case and the budget cut.

The government has acknowledged the financial distress, citing need to service foreign debts that have fallen due.

 “It is true we are having challenges in paying salaries and allocating money to counties because the “Handshake” government ruined this economy. They borrowed money left, right and centre and because we are a responsible government, we have to pay that money. [President] Ruto cannot run away from those debts although he did not incur them,” Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said on Sunday. He was alluding to the administration of retired President Uhuru Kenyatta, which entered into a political deal with Opposition leader Raila Odinga in March 2018, dubbed the “Handshake” to quell a post-election political crisis.

“The national government is caught between two extremes —high level of debt financing and [a cash crunch] due to limited access to finance in the domestic and international financial market,” Treasury CS Njuguna Ndung’u told MPs last week.

Counties where staff are yet to receive their pay for up to two months include Tharaka-Nithi, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Marsabit, Murang’a, Laikipia, Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga, Nyamira, Kisii and Kisumu.

Last month, Council of Governors chairperson and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru wrote to Prof Ndung’u, saying,delayed disbursements were affecting operations and urgently requested that the funds be disbursed.

“This unwarranted delay has jeopardised the operations of the counties, rendered the counties unable to pay salaries, suppliers or continue to offer essential services to citizens,” she said.