counties hiring

Many governors hire relatives and cronies as residents starve.

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How 'greedy governors' flout recruitment rules to quench political thirst

What you need to know:

  • In one county, the governor employed 51 personal advisors contrary to public service guidelines, while 27 counties engaged over 23,000 workers irregularly.
  • In Siaya, the county employed 5,679 casuals, leaving the county’s workforce with a proportion of three workers for each permanent employee

A fresh report seen by The Weekly Review lays bare the greed of elites in public service. A deeper look into the goings-on in the counties reveals a clinically dead country. It is quite marvellous that elective offices only seem to attract the worst of Kenyans.

As residents of Wajir County were exposed to ugly scenes of power fights between their governor and deputy amid alarming levels of hunger last year, an interesting development was happening in the background. The governor employed a total of 51 personal advisors, flouting a Transitional Authority requirement for each county chief to have a maximum of three consultants.

“Review of the personnel files for the advisors revealed that there was no documentary evidence to confirm that 43 advisors who earned a total of Sh93,105,170 during the year under review (2021/22) had the relevant qualifications. In addition, there was no evidence provided to confirm whether the positions of the advisors were regularised by the County Public Service Board contrary to advisory issued by the Transition Authority,” notes an audit report.

Recruitment policy

In Siaya, the county employed 5,679 casuals, leaving the county’s workforce with a proportion of three workers for each permanent employee. The persons hiring the casuals also had the discretion to determine what to pay them. The county, which lacks a policy on recruitment of the temporary staff, spent Sh360.5 million to pay them last year.

It also employed some 220 revenue collectors and 71 health workers without a budget or recruitment plan last year, hired 104 unqualified Early Childhood Development (ECD) instructors and retained some 14 workers who had surpassed the retirement age of 60.

And in the coastal county of Lamu, 574 persons were denied an opportunity to compete for jobs just because they were outsiders, with some 247 staff who were promoted to higher positions without proof of recommendations from their supervisors and approval from the County Public Service Board for 31 employees.

Welcome to the world of employment in counties, where all the hiring controls have been thrown to the wind and governors left to play to their tune, using jobs as a tool to gain political mileage, all at the expense of service delivery.

Kenyans have been left to suffer as the devolved units use up to 60 per cent of their revenues on salaries, flouting the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act, 2012 requirement that no public agency should spend beyond 35 per cent of its revenues on the wage bill.

Last year (2021/22), some 27 counties engaged over 23,000 workers irregularly, mainly through hiring without a need or by flouting employment requirements by hiring and promoting unqualified persons or persons who did not apply for the jobs, employing high numbers of casual workers and maintaining at least 1,014 persons who had attained the maximum retirement age.

Taita Taveta, which spent 59 per cent (Sh2.8 billion) of its Sh4.8 billion revenues on salaries, hired 546 new staff without any plans or budgetary allocation, raising the county wage bill by Sh250 million.

Trans Nzoia also engaged 592 casual workers throughout the year without approval by the county public service board, while also maintaining 69 elderly persons, 30 of whom the Auditor-General notes that “there was no evidence that there was an emergency and/or they were experts to warrant their employment on contractual terms beyond 60 years”.

These have been main ways through which counties continue to spend hundreds of millions of shillings paying salaries that could be avoided, with the wage bill turning into a thorn that is preventing development from reaching the residents. And while the counties continue flouting the laws, gate-keepers who would act to stop them in the interest of taxpayers have slept on the job, allowing the trend to take root.

“We have a back and forth with counties. Some of them inherited a large number of staff from the defunct local authorities and they are not allowed to just throw them away.

Gradually through natural attrition, many of these from the defunct local authorities are slowly going away,” says the Controller of Budget (COB) Margaret Nyakang’o.

While noting that counties have to explain in writing reasons for using more than the required 35 per cent of revenues on salaries and show an action plan to correct the mess, the COB, however, admits that her office has continued to approve the practice, which is an illegality.

Dr Nyakang’o says that while approving withdrawals from the county revenue funds, which is a requirement before spending, her office does not assess compliance with PFM law on wage bill threshold.

“We do not follow the 35 per cent requirement based on single transactions, we must get to the end of the quarter and then find out in total how much went out into the wages, then we report back. If we find that they are above, we keep warning them at every quarter, we keep them on toes,” she says. But this is a loophole that has enabled the devolved units to keep spending much of the revenues they get on salaries, the ultimate burden falling on Kenyans.

Many of the devolved units have no due regard for established laws guiding employment in the country and ghost workers have also cropped up hugely, bleeding millions of shillings of county revenues.

In Narok, the Auditor-General last year established that some 13 employees were paid Sh7.9 million during the year, despite having not worked. “The County Public Service Board had recommended recovery of salaries of Sh7,928,454 paid to 13 staff members who were absent from work without leave or lawful cause for durations ranging between two months to three and a half years. However, no evidence was provided to prove that the directives were effected and the payments were recovered,” Ms Nancy Gathungu, the Auditor-General, noted.

In Nyamira, the county hired officers who had not applied for positions and others who were not qualified, while some 21 workers were paid nine-month salaries totaling Sh1.8 million yet they did not deliver any service.

Temporary workers

Dr Nyakang’o notes that hiring of casuals is a political game many governors play during election years, which bursts wage bills to high levels and creates loopholes for stealing of public funds since temporary workers are paid outside the official government system, the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Database (IPPD).

“When they bring in casuals, being outside the IPPD, they are paid outside. It is one area of abuse because every so often you will find that a lot of casuals have been brought in then after a while, they come back. It’s wrong to have those payments outside the IPPD, but at the same time you have to ask what will happen to those jobless youth outside there because that is their only livelihood,” the COB says.

But to Kenyans, as counties fail to follow the law and spend highs of 63 per cent of their revenues on salaries while ideally that should never cross Sh35 per cent, Dr Nyakang’o has a legal responsibility to play, being the person with the key to county coffers, and with whose authority counties get funds to use as they wish.

“There is no money that can leave the county revenue fund without a requisition. For this office to approve a withdrawal, there must be a requisition and the requisitions must be within the county’s Appropriations Act,” Dr Nyakang’o observes.

The overarching issue with counties is also lack of staff establishment, which ought to be the guide that shows the governments their staffing needs, to make informed employment decisions.