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Cash crisis hits Western counties

Thursday February 20 2020

Kakamega County Governor Wycliffe Oparanya

Kakamega County Governor Wycliffe Oparanya (left) during a past event. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

BENSON AMADALA
By BENSON AMADALA
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DERRICK LUVEGA
By DERRICK LUVEGA
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Five counties in western region have accumulated outstanding pending bills amounting to Sh2.6 billion as pressure piles on the devolved units to come up with payment plans for the debts.

The affected counties are Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga and Trans-Nzoia.

The details are contained in a press release by Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury and Planning Ukur Yatani dated February 14, 2020.

The huge amount of pending bills is taking a toll on key services in the counties, paralysing implementation of development projects in the regions.

CUTTING COSTS

Some counties have started taking measures to cut costs.

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In Kakamega County, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has introduced measures to cut down on recurrent expenditure and increase revenue collection while in Vihiga, desperate MCAs have declared the biting cash crisis at the devolved unit dire, and threatened to institute an impeachment process against the executive.

Protesting MCAs who have been hit by the crunch have declared that the devolved unit is now in the ''intensive care unit''.

They spoke as Governor Wilber Ottichilo threatened to take unspecified disciplinary action against health workers who have boycotted work protesting against delayed payment of January salaries.

The health workers and MCAs are among the over 2,000 county staff who are yet to receive their January salaries following the crisis.

Governor Oparanya announced scrapping of office floats and directed that the department of Public Service and Administration comes up with centralised purchase of items needed for day-to-day running of respective offices.

He directed that internal audit reports should be presented at meetings for senior executives, held twice in a week, to promote accountability regarding the issue of resources.

Mr Yatani said: “Since July, significant resources have been made available to the county governments to clear pending bills.

"Indeed, as at February 14, 2020, the National Treasury has cumulatively released Sh151.47 billion as their equitable share of revenue raised nationally and Sh8.09 billion as conditional grants in the FY 2019/2020.”

Nationally, workers in 28 counties have not been paid their January salaries because of the financial crunch.

The Union of Kenya Civil Servants has issued a seven-day strike notice, set to kick off on Monday, to protest against the delayed salaries.

The union’s secretary, Mr Tom Odege, in a notice dated February 17, said the strike has been called on account of the delayed salaries and non-remittance of statutory deductions.

Vihiga County has the highest amount of pending bills at Sh1.8 billion out of which 949.2 million is categorised as outstanding eligible pending bills.

Reacting to the issue, Governor Ottichilo explained that his administration had complied with the directive to settle its pending bills and blamed the National Treasury and Controller of Budget (CoB) for the current financial stalemate.

The supplementary budget passed in December last year allocated Sh450 million to kick-start payment of part of the eligible pending bills approved by the Auditor-General.

The county is currently grappling with stalled operations caused by delayed approval of requisitions, and delayed January salaries for its workers, with the medical staff being the hardest hit.

Mr Yatani said three counties -- Bungoma, Kakamega and Trans-Nzoia -- had made substantial payment plans for settling the balance by March, 2020.

Kakamega has overall outstanding bills amounting to Sh40 million out of which Sh29.2 million falls under the category of eligible pending bills, which means the bills have been approved by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) for payment.

Bungoma County has outstanding eligible pending bills amounting to Sh78 million.

Busia County is among eight other devolved units which have submitted payment proposals indicating they will clear eligible pending bills by the end of June 2020.

Other counties listed to clear the pending bills during the same period are Kisumu, Marsabit, Mombasa, Meru, Nandi, Tharaka-Nithi and Kiambu.

Trans-Nzoia County has overall outstanding pending bills of Sh583.3 million with Sh169.4 million being eligible pending bills. The county has submitted a payment plan to clear the bills by next month.

In Vihiga, ward representatives in the county warned on Wednesday that they would institute impeachment proceedings against the executive once the 38-member assembly resumes from the long Christmas recess this week.

Mr Calystus Ayodi (Muhudu ward) led his colleagues in declaring the ICU status on their county as ward representatives said they were themselves going hungry due to the financial crisis the county was facing.

"Vihiga is in the ICU. We cannot hide this any more. As we resume (from recess), we will see what to do about this,” said Mr Ayodi, the Muhudu ward representative.

Other MCAs who registered their frustrations over the cash crisis include Mr Francis Ukiru (Izava/Lyaduywa ward), Vincent Atsiaya (Wodanga ward), Gladys Analo (Busali ward) and Venna Kaisha (Nominated).

In a statement, Dr Ottichilo urged all county staff to remain calm as the matter was addressed, acknowledging that people have bills to pay and families to sustain.

The governor termed the move by nurses to stage ''salary parades'' malicious and asked them to return to work as the matter is addressed.

While warning of disciplinary action, Dr Ottichilo said the current stalemate in processing of salaries is a nationwide challenge and added that governors will be meeting the Controller of Budget (CoB) to address the matter.

At least 28 counties are yet to pay workers' salaries following a directive to clear all the eligible pending bills before disbursements are done.

"I have learnt of a malicious move by a section of health workers who have decided to compromise service delivery due to the unpaid salaries," said Dr Ottichilo.

He went on: "I believe this is unfair to the common mwananchi especially when it is in the public domain that both the executive and the assembly have not received their January remuneration."

"I, therefore, urge any health worker who may have absconded duty to report back, failing which disciplinary action will be taken," warned Dr Ottichilo.

The warning by Dr Ottichilo came as the local Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) said its members will continue with the ongoing go-slow by staging what they termed "salary parades".

Branch secretary Caleb Maloba said the "salary parades" will only be called off once they get their dues.

Governor Ottichilo, while regretting the delayed January salaries, however, said it is a national crisis blamed on the CoB, whom he accused of failing to approve requisition even after the devolved unit "complied" with demands given.

He explained that his administration had prepared requisition for salaries to the National Treasury and the CoB.

But Mr Ukiru said it was time the county assembly ''acted hard'' on the executive in a bid to address the current financial crisis.

Mr Atsiaya alluded to a simmering plan to instigate impeachment proceedings against the executive.

"Very soon, we are going to send Ottichilo to the Senate. His administration is failing this county,” the MCA said.

Mrs Analo, who also chairs the Public Service and Administration Committee, said it was time the House began impeachment proceedings against the 10 county ministers in the wake of the paralysis that has hit the county's operations.

Her nominated counterpart, Ms Kaisha, urged her colleagues to make good the threat to start impeachment proceedings.

She said ward representatives were unable to put food on their tables and complained that Dr Ottichilo's administration had rendered many youths jobless through massive sackings.

"This is enough. Let us act and start collecting signatures to back the planned impeachment," said Ms Kaisha.