Counties stare at paralysis as coffers run dry

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020 00:00 |
Council of Governors members, led by chairman Wycliffe Oparanya (centre), address the press in the past. Photo/PD/File

On the day President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga broke the deadlock over revenue sharing among counties and promised an extra Sh50 billion for their budgets next year, the regional governments are on their knees.

A survey by People Daily established that all the 47 counties are in the red and staring at a complete paralysis.

Salaries have not been paid, development projects have stalled and contractors and suppliers are in limbo over debts owed by the regional units.

It was also established that virtually all the counties have drastically scaled down their services after failing to receive money from the National Treasury for three months.

From Wajir to Kwale, Siaya to Kitui, the warning was the same... that the devolved units will shut down operations this week should the Senate fail to reach consensus on the formula for sharing revenue among counties.

Regional governments have remained cash strapped for months after the Senate failed to agree on what formula should be used by the national government to disburse funds.

Our enquiries established that employees in Mombasa, Nairobi, Isiolo, Laikipia, Kakamega, Busia, Marsabit, Bungoma, Bomet, Kitui, Kilifi, Siaya, Kwale, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir, Murang’a, Nakuru, West Pokot, Kericho, Uasin Gishu, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Makueni, Narok, Migori and Homa Bay, among others, are yet to receive their pay for the last two months.

For more than 10 sessions, the Senate had failed to come up with an agreeable formula, leading to the formation of a 12-member committee, which also failed to find a solution on how the Sh316.5 billion revenue allocated to counties should be shared.

Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya yesterday said the stalemate in the Senate had stalled operations across the country, particularly payment of staff salaries and health services.

“Counties are literally on their knees. Almost all of them have not paid salaries and health services, which is a devolved function, is severely affected.

We have not received any coin from the National Government,” Oparanya said.

Only a few counties such as Kisumu, Oparanya disclosed, had managed to pay staff salaries after acquiring loans from financial institutions.

Stalemate ends

Oparanya said the council was disappointed by the Senate stalemate, which had in turn delayed implementation of the County Allocation Revenue Act, 2020.

CoG chairman, who is the Kakamega Governor, was at yesterday’s meeting at State House that ended the stalemate. It was chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and attended by the Senate leadership.

Other than Opposition leader Raila Odinga, others present were Samuel Poghisio (Majority Leader), Irungu Kang’ata (Majority Chief Whip), James Orengo (Minority Leader) and Fatuma Dullo, deputy Majority Leader. 

The meeting resolved that senators pass the formula presented by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) in its current form.

Depending on the performance of the economy in the 2021/2022 Financial Year, the government would then allocate an additional Sh50 billion to counties in a bid to strengthen them.

As a result of the financial strain, counties have put on hold payments of pending bills and suppliers.

In Nairobi, employees and the Members of the County Assembly have not been paid for the last three months, forcing some of them to resort to unorthodox means to make money to meet their bills.

In Mandera, the county Chief of Staff David Ohito said: “Counties are in a dire situation and unless something is done urgently, we are staring at a possible paralysis in operations.

Either the senators should agree on the issue, or the National Treasury should release 50 per cent of the funds to counties.” 

In Nandi, the county is shopping for a financial institution to borrow a loan from to pay employees who have gone without salaries for four months.

Finance Chief Officer Meshack Malakwen and Head of County Budget Prisca Chepchirchir said the emergency funds would help avert a strike by more than 5,000 workers.

“The county is running short of funds to sustain service delivery. This is the reason we are seeking your approval to support the staff as they wait for the Senate to approve the CRA,” said Malakwen.

In Mombasa, the standoff has virtually brought all operations to a standstill as workers in all departments decry empty pockets.

Although County Secretary Denis Lewa said yesterday that funds meant to pay salaries had been released, staff in all the departments said the money had not hit their accounts.

First time

“There is nothing in the accounts… and if at all they the money for salaries has been released, then I am hearing this for the first time… we were expecting to get paid last week but it never was.

We then enquired and they promised to pay us before the end of the week… however, until now none of our members has been paid,” said Kenya National Union of Nurses Mombasa branch secretary General, Peter Maroko.

Similarly, Mombasa County Assembly’s chairman of Finance Budget and Appropriations Committee Mohamed Hatimy said important projects under the County Integrated Development Plans had stalled as a result of lack of funds.

According to Hatimy “currently Mombasa has five hospitals that have been completed but there is no human resource because of the Senate deadlock”.

In Busia, Governor Sospeter Ojaamong threatened to halt all operations save for the most essential ones.

“After closing down all the departments, employees may be ordered to go home until when the situation will be back to normal,” said Ojaamong.

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