The Meru County Assembly is rushing against time to approve payment of Sh723.85 million in eligible pending bills after the National Treasury withheld its equitable share in November 2019.
The MCAs on Tuesday evening passed supplementary budget estimates that saw key development projects starved of funds in order to pay the pending bills to avert a government shutdown.
To raise money for the pending bills, the MCAs approved cuts of Sh276.6 million from ward projects, Sh247 million from borehole drilling and community water projects and Sh50 million meant for use in the building of the Speaker’s residence and county assembly offices and a restaurant.
Also affected is the ongoing construction of the governor’s and deputy governor’s residences which lost Sh10 million, spatial plans (Sh19 million) and Lake Nkunga rehabilitation (Sh15 million).
Budget and Appropriation Committee Chairman Julius Mbijiwe said the county still remains with Sh419.6 million ineligible pending bills which are being assessed.
“The county government has not received any money from the Exchequer since December and, if the pending bills issue is not resolved in time, we risk a government shutdown. As a result, we have had to cut funding from flagship and community projects in order to pay up,” Mr Mbijiwe said.
But the committee demanded that money cut from ward projects and the County Assembly be factored in the next financial budget.
Mr Mbijiwe said the National Treasury’s directive that projects that were done first be prioritised when paying contractors will bring an end to piling unpaid bills.
“As an assembly, we will not touch the next financial year’s budget without the executive presenting a debt management strategy. We must know how the ineligible pending bills will be handled going forward,” he said.
There was an outcry from a section of the MCAs who felt that the supplementary budget had eaten into Sh20 million ward allocation despite the money having been planned for.
“I reject the estimates because the money needed for pending bills can be raised from other areas without affecting the ward fund. We need more time to identify votes from which to raise the Sh732 million,” Kiegoi/Antubociu MCA Kimathi Ithibua said.
Kangeta MCA Romano Mwito urged his colleagues to “swallow the bitter pill” and allow for the budget adjustments to enable the county receive the much needed funding from the national government.
By the end of the 2017/2018 financial year, Meru County had accumulated Sh2.26 billion in pending bills of which Sh1.84 billion was eligible for payment.
So far, the county government has paid Sh1.12 billion, leaving a balance of Sh723.8 million that has led to sanctions.