Why governors have resorted to excuses over pending bills

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 00:00 |
Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya at a past event. Photo/PD/FILE

As the row on pending bills rages, some governors are resorting to convenient excuses not to settle the delayed payments which have brought individuals and businesses to ruin.

Though the “can’t pay, won’t pay” county chiefs blame shoddy work by contractors, protracted legal suits, late disbursement of cash by National Treasury and lack of verification by the Auditor General, it is the impunity, theft and greed which is at the heart of the stalemate between the National Treasury and the devolved units over the payments.

Some  of those flagged out by the Treasury have been blunt in their refusal to settle the bills, claiming the tenders were either awarded irregularly or faked by their predecessors.

Ironically, they have gladly inherited assets left behind by their predecessors even as they question the liabilities.

Yesterday, Members of civil society blamed the financial crisis in the counties to blatant, skewed budgeting to serve vested interests in tendering, weak and complicit county assemblies that are supposed to  oversight  governance  in the devolved governments. 

The situation has also been blamed on ego fights between the counties and the national government as well as misplaced priorities.

The civil society groups, in a statement released by the Civil Society Reference Group, accused the Council of Governors (CoG) of “overzealously defending county chiefs accused of corruption”. 

“A number of county governors have turned public institutions into their own private investments that do business with the county governments that they lead, thereby not serving the original purpose for which the communication frameworks were intended,” the group said in a statement signed by the residing convener, Suba Churchill.

“Individual governors have hijacked and subverted the philosophy behind devolution into self-serving pursuit for their personal grandeur and opulence, and the CoG wants Kenyans to entertain such misconduct,” the statement said.

Last month, the National Treasury singled out Governors Mike Sonko (Nairobi), Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), Ann Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Samuel Tunai (Naroki), Ali Korane (Wajir), Mohammed Kuti (Isiolo), Joseph ole Lenku (Kajiado), Hillary Barchok (Bomet) and  Stephen Sang’ (Nandi), as among those who have stubbornly refused to settle  pending bills.

Inherited assets 

Contacted yesterday, Mutua maintained that counties are independent and advised the national government not to limit their operations to make them appear subservient to it.

“We are paying the bills which have been verified, but it must also be clear that the national government also has pending bills that stretch to billions.

They should also pay,” he said on the phone last evening. “We had discussed the matter with the Controller of Budget and reached an agreement on how they will be settled.

We don’t understand the reason for what sounds like threats to counties by national government,” he added.

While Njuki has attributed the swelling pending bills to late disbursement by the National Treasury, Tunai has blamed prolonged infrastructural projects and some contractors whom he accuses of having done shoddy jobs for his non-compliance in settling the debts.

According to Njuki, Treasury always delays releasing funds to their  accounts and sometimes releases money at the end of the financial year, which makes it difficult for counties to clear pending bills.

“You can’t pay at the end of the financial year unless you consider it in a supplementary budget.

We are asking Senate to intervene on our behalf to have timely disbursements to the counties,” said the governor.

And he posed: “How are you going to clear pending bills, if there is no disbursement at all?” Tunai said some contracts awarded in the initial stages of devolution were fictitious and the bills inflated.

“At the time, the Transitional Authority was in charge because counties were not fully constituted.

We believe that some bills incurred were fake and untrue. We are awaiting the verdict of the pending bills verification committee,” he told People Daily yesterday.

Financial year

 In her annual report for 2017/18 financial year, former Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo had indicated the outstanding pending bills in the counties stood at  Sh108.41 billion as at June 2018.

However, a special audit  report by the Auditor General in July showed that Sh51.28 billion out of Sh108.41 pending bills in counties are genuine and should be settled.

An excess of Sh37 billion were either fake or did not meet the threshold for payment, the auditor noted.

“These figures are generated by counties and forwarded to us. They do not originate from us,” said Odhiambo, in response to accusations by some governors that she was creating “imaginary  and fabricated figures”.

Responding to a directive by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to counties to clear pending bills by Friday, Sonko claimed that on assuming office in August 2017, he found out that Sh64 billion pending bills in the city were fake and that contractors had supplied “air” and cited ghost projects.

The city boss, who is one of those on record that he would not settle  bills incurred by his predecessor Evans Kidero, added that only Sh23 billion worth of services was eligible for payment. 

 “When Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko took over, he found pending bills standing at Sh64 billion. Sonko soon realised most of these bills were fake and went to court and obtained a moratorium stopping suppliers from forcing him to make payments until the bills were verified,” read a statement from governor’s office yesterday.

On Wednesday, Matiang’i warned that the national government will use all legal means to compel counties to settle pending bills.

“We will use all lawful means to ensure these pending bills are paid. It is not fair to treat our people in the manner they are being treated in the counties,” he said.

“Some governors don’t want to pay pending bills because they were incurred when their predecessors were in office,” the CS said.

The minister said the national government had paid Sh9 billion of its pending bills and advised the county chiefs to stop playing politics with the lives of small businesses which they owe billions.

 However, the Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya yesterday came out in defence of his colleagues and criticised Matiang’i’s stand.

He said the CoG agreed with suspended Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and the Controller of Budget that suppliers and contractors must be audited first to ensure money is paid to genuine people.

“The auditing has to be carried out first to establish eligible and genuine bills and illegible pending bills.

Majority of the bills are not eligible to process payments due to disputes or lack of proper documentation that can aid in making payments,” said Oparanya, who is the Kakamega governor.

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