Margaret Nyakango.
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Shining stars: Five counties the hope of development spending

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Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakango.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

At least five counties were the shining stars in the first nine months of the just-ended 2023/2024 financial year, contributing about Sh10 billion to the total development spending by all 47 devolved entities.

According to the County Governments Implementation Review Report for the last nine months of the 2023/2024 financial year by the Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang'o, the five counties - Narok, Bomet, Uasin Gishu, Mandera and Kitui - recorded the highest absorption rates of development expenditure at 54.4 per cent, 48.8 per cent, 41.5 per cent, 38 per cent and 36.6 per cent respectively.

Interestingly, only Narok County recorded a development expenditure absorption rate of over 50 per cent at 54.4 per cent, surpassing the combined development expenditure of about 10 counties.

"All county governments spent Sh44.89 billion on development activities, representing an absorption rate of 22.1 per cent of the annual development budget of Sh203.48 billion," reads part of the report.

The report shows that Narok spent Sh2.9 billion on development, Mandera (Sh1.9 billion), Kitui (Sh1.8 billion), Uasin Gishu (Sh1.68 billion) and Bomet (Sh1.16 billion) emerged as the top five counties spending more than Sh1 billion on development during the period under review.

The Controller of Budget also revealed how most of the other 42 counties failed to utilise the money allocated for development.

The report shows that Nairobi, Bungoma, Mombasa and Taita Taveta had the lowest absorption rates.

Governor Johnson Sakaja's administration spent only Sh1.25 billion on development out of a Sh14 billion development budget (9 per cent), while Bungoma used Sh660 million out of Sh4.48 billion (11.7 per cent) and Mombasa used Sh369 million out of a budget of Sh4.4 billion (7.7 per cent).

Taita Taveta had allocated Sh2.19 billion for development but only spent Sh163 million (7 per cent).

"Total expenditure by county governments in the first nine months of the 2023/24 financial year was Sh274.08 billion, representing an absorption rate of 48.5 per cent of the county governments' total annual budget of Sh564.53 billion," the report added.

A review of cumulative expenditure by economic classification showed that Sh146.53 billion (53.5 per cent) was spent on personnel emoluments, Sh82.65 billion (30.2 per cent) on operations and maintenance and Sh44.89 billion (16.4 per cent) on development.

Based on the findings, the Controller of Budget is now recommending that to improve budget implementation, county governments should ensure that expenditure on personnel emoluments is contained at sustainable levels and in line with Regulation 25 (1) (b) of the Public Finance Management (County Governments) Regulations, 2015.

The Nation noted that most governors have been held back from initiating meaningful development projects by high wage bills that consume more than half of their counties' annual budgets, unpaid debts - some dating back to defunct local authorities - and stalled projects they inherited from their predecessors.

The majority of the 47 counties have engaged the services of audit committees to scrutinise the final bills before embarking on payment.

For example, counties had settled Sh10.5 billion of outstanding bills by December 2023.

At least 43 counties reported spending between Sh17 million and Sh1.8 billion each on payments to suppliers during the six months.

By the end of December 2023, the CoB report showed that the stock of pending bills for all 47 counties stood at Sh156.3 billion.

"The analysis of pending bills shows that Nairobi City County accounts for 68.5 per cent of the stock of pending bills at Sh107.04 billion. Other counties with high levels of pending bills are Kiambu (Sh5.71 billion), Mombasa (Sh3.92 billion), Machakos (Sh3.03 billion), Mandera (Sh2.3 billion) and Busia (Sh2.29 billion)," CoB Margaret Nyakang'o said in the report.

By December 2023, Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung'aro had spent Sh1.77 billion to settle outstanding bills.

Turkana County followed with Sh564.4 million, while Tana River spent Sh534.36 million on outstanding bills in six months.

Murang'a topped the list of four counties that spent more than Sh500 million after spending Sh512.78 million.

Some four other counties, namely Embu, Migori, Nairobi and Kisimu, spent between Sh400 million and Sh490 million each to settle outstanding bills.

Most of the new governors were also able to embark on meaningful development projects as they had to complete stalled projects.

For example, the new governors in the Rift Valley region had the nightmare of completing stalled projects costing more than Sh10 billion started by their predecessors.

In some counties, governors lack the funds to complete stalled or unfinished projects inherited from previous county administrations.

Most counties are also struggling with high wage bills that consume more than half of the counties' annual budgets, hampering development activities.

Most of the new governors have been unable to initiate development projects because of the huge and ever-increasing wage bill.

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika, for example, unseated Lee Kinyanjui with promises of development projects and efficiency in running county affairs.

But as she settled into office, she discovered that nearly 60 per cent of the county's budget was being spent on staff salaries, reducing the funds available for development.

A year into Governor Kihika's tenure, Nakuru County continues to grapple with a ballooning wage bill that could top Sh7 billion this financial year, according to records. 

An audit by Budget Controller Margaret Nyakang'o for the first six months of the 2023/2024 financial year alone shows that Nakuru spent Sh3.63 billion on salaries and wages.

"In the first six months of the 2023/2024 financial year, expenditure on staff remuneration amounted to Sh3.63 billion or 37.2 per cent of available revenue of Sh9.77 billion," reads part of the audit report.

Only Sh1.46 billion was spent on development and Sh1.68 billion on operations and maintenance.

Records from the Treasury show that out of the Sh 17 billion budget for the previous fiscal year 2022/2023, the devolved unit used a whopping Sh 6.5 billion (almost 50 per cent) on salaries and wages.

The Controller of Budget and the Auditor General, in their latest reports, have flagged several other county governments for using huge amounts of money to pay salaries.

The two main public finance watchdogs cite unauthorised payments, overstaffing and unsupported payments as key factors contributing to waste in the public wage bill.

Kitui County leads ten counties flagged by Budget Controller Margaret Nyakang'o in her latest report with the highest wage bill at 75 per cent, at the expense of spending on critical infrastructure.

Kisii, Garissa, Busia, Nyamira, West Pokot, Machakos, Embu, Nairobi and Wajir counties are also blacklisted by the Budget Controller for prioritising spending on wages with a ratio of more than 60 per cent of total revenue.

"There is a lot of waste in the counties through bloated wage bills, with some counties using up to 75 per cent of their cash to pay salaries, leaving only 25 per cent for development," Nyakang'o said in her latest report.

Others are Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot and Kiambu.

In the last fiscal year 2022/2023, for instance, Kiambu spent Sh7.8 billion out of Sh12.8 billion on salaries and wages. The wage bill accounted for sixty-one per cent (61%) of total revenue.

Data from the Auditor General and the Controller of Budget show that most county governments have exceeded the recommended 35 per cent expenditure on salaries and wages for the past four years.

Under the Public Finance Management Act 2015, county government expenditure on wages and benefits is capped at 35 per cent of the county's total revenue.

High expenditure on personal emoluments has hampered development in the devolved units.