On his first day in office, Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki suspended 1,061 casual and open contract employees.
That has become a trend among the new county bosses and a few of their re-elected colleagues. But as Homa Bay Senator-elect Moses Kajwang’ remarked when he and Mr Njuki appeared on a Citizen TV show last Tuesday, in which the governor explained the undesirable step, Tharaka-Nithi is a peculiar case.
Former governor Samuel Ragwa made record appearances before the Senate’s Public Accounts and Investments Committee over the Auditor-General’s reports on unaccounted-for funds.
Once the then-PIAC chairman (now Kisumu governor), Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, told Mr Ragwa: “If you cannot differentiate between financial statements and operations, go back to the people of Tharaka-Nithi, tell them you can’t serve them and go home.” Well, Ragwa never did that but, on August 8, he was ‘red-carded’ by the voters.
Mr Ragwa and his deputy Murithi Mate aka “Mr Moneybags” skipped the swearing-in, leaving County Secretary Fredrick Kamundi to do the handing over.
It is common for residents of Tharaka-Nithi to say the county government’s money is carried in sacks—a mockery of the imprudence with which public funds have been splashed.
This may have arisen from an incident in which anti-corruption detectives raided Mr Mate’s homes and businesses after his bodyguard was said to have snatched Sh3.5 million from the county leader’s official vehicle, exposing huge amounts of money stashed in envelopes.
Mr Njuki says the county’s bloated workforce gobbles 65 per cent of the budget. At Sh200 million—or Sh2.4 billion a year—against a Sh3.5 billion annual allocation, it is more than double the World Bank-recommended 30-70 salaries-to-development ratio.
A scrutiny of the payroll has unearthed shocking anomalies in hiring and remuneration.
Besides well-paid ghost workers, placements are not in line with the set education levels, work experience, skills or job descriptions.
A security guard placed on Job Group ‘K’ earns more than Sh100,000 in basic pay and allowances.
His appointment letter does not indicate in the capacity in which he was hired but his last posting was as a guard at a top official’s home.
People earn hefty ‘salaries’ as nurses, vets and doctors, among other professions they never trained for.
The County Public Service Board, Mr Njuki said on live television, claimed it was forced by Mr Ragwa to issue appointment letters and pay salaries decided by him.
Dr Kamundi has been in court with Mr Ragwa for the past four years after he sued over irregular transfer to head of a department and suspension from work without pay. He was reinstated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Tharaka-Nithi County is a good reference case for the need for stricter laws to protect devolved units from rogue governors.
There is little to show for the Sh12 billion Treasury allocated the county—save for palatial homes, classy hotels, flashy cars and photos of luxury holidays for some workers and bosses.
And for the County Assembly turning a blind eye to the shenanigans, all but three of the MCAs were voted out while Speaker John Mbabu unsuccessfully sought to succeed Mr Njuki as Chuka Igambang’ombe MP.
It is dawning on residents why Mr Njuki asked for patience and support as he took painful and costly measures to free money for development.
The Senate must find ways of ending the looting and misuse of funds at the counties for the fruits of devolution to reach the intended recipients. In addition, all culprits must be brought to book and the loot recovered.
Ms Riungu is a consultant journalist. [email protected]