Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo helped manage public resources

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 00:00 |
Kenya’s first Controller of Budget (CoB) Dr Agnes Odhiambo

Fred Aminga and Hillary Mageka

Curtains yesterday fell on Kenya’s first Controller of Budget (CoB) Dr  Agnes Odhiambo at the constitutional office she has occupied since August 2011.

The accountant and fellow at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya, has since helped manage and utilise the country’s public resources.

Set up as an independent office under Article 228 of the Constitution, her primary mandate was to provide oversight and advice in implementing budgets at both national and county government level.

Odhiambo has been in the thick of various arbitrations between the national and the county governments and ensured disputes on budget matters were resolved efficiently. This was among her major challenges, but more importantly, the office ensured that committees allocated funds were utilised through appropriate accounting procedures.

She also in charge of approvals for withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund, the County Revenue Fund and the Equalisation Fund coupled with quarterly reports to the Senate and National Assembly.

Despite being presumed independent, however, the office has a way to attract the bearer of the office into politics, with the torch ever shining on every decision made.

Political swords

The outgoing CoB faced political swords severally in the course of duty and the most notable was when the Eurobond controversies erupted over signatories to some offshore and special accounts, at the Central Bank of Kenya.

When called upon to answer queries, she told the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) that she had not approved withdrawals from any offshore accounts, but in a twist, she later said that despite not being fully involved she was, however, satisfied by Treasury’s explanation based on unqualified audit reports over the payment of an Sh215 billion syndicated loan.

Agnes Odhiambo told PAC that her office got to know about the transactions when Treasury was reconciling books of accounts after a voucher emerged indicating they wanted to make an entry.

According to her, the funds which had been banked abroad in ‘special accounts’ under Treasury had signatories not known to the Office of the Controller of Budget.

Therefore, as the corner office gets reassigned, these are some of the live wires the next CoB is likely to encounter, and it is expected they will act without favour.

“As I exit, am leaving behind a stable office that will continue to deliver the mandate of the office for a long time in future,” she said in her end of term report covering the period 2011 to 2019.

She said that despite numerous achievements that characterised her tenure, her office faced a variety of challenges which affected the efficiency of operations.

She served an eight-year, non-renewable term and the Public Service Commission is expected to recommend the most senior officer in the office of the Controller of Budget to the President for designation as the acting Controller of Budget.

Odhiambo’s deputy, Stephen Masha, who is the current Deputy CoB and Director of Budget Implementation is expected to be gazetted to hold the position in an acting capacity for 90 days until a substantive person is appointed in accordance Section 4 of the Office of the Controller of Budget Act 2016. In subsection (1), the Act stipulates that the acting CoB shall have all the powers of the CoB.

Spirit of devolution

It is, therefore, expected that the office will sustain the spirit of devolution by distributing enough resources for development as opposed to recurrent spending. In what is akin to economic suicide, for instance, 24 counties reportedly spent very little cash on development in the first quarter of the 2018/19 financial year.

Such expenditure, which goes against the spirit of the Constitution, amid blatant abuse of the little funds set aside for development, must be checked. The next CoB must, therefore, ensure that the development agenda gains traction devoid of political interference or favours.

With Kenya’s budget has increased to Sh3.08 trillion for the year 2019/20, conscientious spending of allocations is required given that the taxman has been unable to raise even Sh2 trillion out of that amount, meaning the balance comes from loans.

The next CoB must ensure that increasing budgetary allocations, coming against an unwillingness to lower spending, are met with tougher oversight going forward.

Odhiambo was nominated by former President Mwai Kibaki and on August 23, 2011, and officially took office on August 26. Before her appointment, she was the Chief Executive of the National Government Constituency Development Fund.

Prior to joining NGCDF in 2009, Odhiambo worked at Deloitte and Touche, BAT Kenya, Unga Group, Metro Cash and Carry, Unga Ltd and Post Bank.

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