Theft, wrong priorities dim counties hope

Fred Aminga @faminga

County governments have received Sh1.6 trillion from Treasury since the advent of the devolved system in 2013. Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) chairperson Jane Karingai estimates that of the Sh1.6 trillion allocated to the 47 counties between 2013/2014 and 2018/2019 financial years, Sh302  billion was allocated in consideration of poverty levels.

Land area was used to share Sh126 billion, while the development index has been used to share Sh6 billion. That means only Sh434 billion has gone towards tackling poverty and closing development gap among counties. Besides allocations from the National Treasury, counties also have other sources of resources.

Take the FY 2018/19. Apart from government allocation, they also got Sh25.5 billion as total conditional grants from the National government, Sh33.24 billion as conditional grants from development partners, Sh50.06 billion from own sources of revenue, and Sh48.36 billion cash balance from FY 2017/18.

Corruption, wrong priorities and poor implementation of projects have, however, dimmed the devolution dream. Going by the audit queries by the Auditor General and Parliament, it is no longer a secret that most resources meant for development end up in private pockets.

The reports confirm the unfortunate fact that with the devolution of power and resources, greed and  impunity were also devolved. County governments became the new centres of theft and nepotism.

Auditor’s reports show that many counties cannot account for billions of shillings. The Auditor’s office has also unmasked massive plunder of public funds through inflating cost of projects.

Besides runaway corruption, governors and other senior county employees have been accused of handing tenders and contracts to friends and relatives and favouritism in employment.

The overall picture that has emerged over the past five years is that development is a secondary consideration when it comes to allocation of funds.

Just recently, the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo revealed that several counties had not allocated any funds to development in the first quarter of 2018/19 fiscal year.

In the report, Odhiambo noted that nearly half of the 47 counties fell short of expectations, with some counties not spending even a single cent on development in the first quarter of FY 2018/19.

Spending on non-priority areas at the expense of development is the norm in most counties. One such area is the notorious local and international benchmarking trips that Members of County Assemblies and other county officials are fond of.

The controller of budget estimates that county governments spent a whopping Sh2.67 billion on domestic and foreign travel in the first quarter of this financial year.

In another report, the Auditor General questioned the use of Sh12.15 billion by counties in travel and advertising costs in the 2016-2017 financial year.

Some 14 county assemblies reported higher expenditure on committee sitting allowance than the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s (SRC) recommended monthly maximum of Sh80,000.

Governors and other county officials, however, routinely deny reports of corruption and poor allocation of resources, including the recent reports that some counties had completely starved the development vote of resources.

But speaking to People Daily recently, Auditor General Edward Ouko said county governments must produce documents that support expenditure instead of accusing his office for inaccurate audit reports.

“I report what they don’t have and what they have. I don’t manufacture reports. It’s them to produce documents to support expenditure,” he said.

He accuses county Executives of failing to produce receipts to confirm expenditure, procurement records or local service orders to confirm how the suppliers were identified, selected and awarded.

The true picture of spending patterns and allocations may not come out clearly given that the audit queries at the National Assembly are about cases that happened several years back.

But going by the overall comments of the office of the Auditor General, a lot needs to streamline the use of resources by counties.

The story of devolution is not, however, all gloom and doom. In the last five years, there have been many success stories and visible evidence that devolution is transforming lives and economies.

Some counties have established processing factories making case studies on how value addition of locally available resources can turn the fortunes of farmers and create jobs.

The health sector has witnessed a major boost as facilities have been improved with staff-patient ratios increasing. More people can now access health facilities closer to their homes.

Devolution has revamped Early Childhood Centres by handing management to county governments.The devolved units have ensured there is a more equitable distribution of employment opportunities.

According director Sterling Capital John Kirimi, while we have made major strides with visible development around the country, waste should be curtailed and more resources allocated to productive sectors.

“They must choose projects very carefully and emphasise those with high output, otherwise devolution will not achieve its goals,” he said.

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