Ideally, Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) make laws, approve expenditure and play an oversight role, checking excesses of the county executive, particularly in the use of public resources.
However, MCAs have been unable to rein in profligacy and misuse of public funds as well as outright corruption in the past five years.
In fact, they have been squarely blamed for the rot in counties.
This turn of events is contrary to the expectations of the framers of the current constitution who saw devolution as an antidote to corruption besides being a means through which faster development would be attained.
Successive Auditor General’s reports have been revealing massive rip-offs at the devolved units, with the MCAs being at the centre of it all. As per these reports, including the latest, county assemblies have presided over plunder of public funds either by sleeping on the job or riding in the gravy train.
Analysts says MCAs have been unable to perform their oversight role because they are held captive by sycophancy, greed and incompetence.
Yet as the county assemblies fall far short in their roles, the counties’ budgetary share of their allowances have been ballooning. The Controller of Budget’s report released this month reveals that each MCA took home an average Sh113,336 per month in sitting allowances in the year to June, a 9.7 per cent increase from the Sh103,583 earned in a similar period a year earlier.
The report also reveals MCA sitting allowance in Garissa, Homa Bay and Trans Nzoia counties surpassed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) recommended monthly cap of Sh124,800.
Governors, some of whom were accused of corruption, appeared to have been rendered powerless by rapacious MCAs who threaten the county chief executives with impeachment and refusal to approve budgets for crucial projects if they interfere with their hefty allowances.
That the Auditor General’s reports have been flagging one malfeasance after another related to the MCAs underlines the scope of misuse of county funds by those who ought to protect them.
Even as mundane issues as food allowances have raised the eyebrows of the Auditor General. For instance, Sh1.1 million paid out as lunch to Vihiga MCAs for various sittings on top of their sitting allowances was declared irregular.
“It was not clear how the rates were arrived at or why they were paid the lunch allowances yet they were earning sitting allowances,” the report notes adding that a further Sh8.9 million paid to the MCAs during meetings held in Kisumu on diverse dates in December 2015 lacked supporting documents.
A Sh1.8 million contract payment to M/S Budget Furniture Limited who supplied and fitted a red carpet in the county assembly was also not explained raising questions on capacity of the accounting officers.
The further report casts doubt on the recovery of Sh21.7 million car loans that remained unpaid after August 8 when the MCAs’ terms ended, as the money was dished out without any collateral while the vehicle’s logbooks bore the MCAs’ names against the norm where co-ownership registration ought to be maintained until the debt is paid in full.
In 2015, Kiambu MCAs attended a one-day consultative meeting in Naivasha that earned Sh1.2 million in allowances but no explanation was given in the records on why such hefty pay was necessary.
Kisumu MCAs pocketed Sh5.9 million for 105 committee meetings deemed “fictitious” for lack of minutes and a “benchmarking” Uganda tour earned them Sh4 million but not receipts were posted to support it.
Members of Siaya county assembly received double allowances between July and August 2015 with similar reports on unwarranted payments made to MCAs in the past county governments of Kisii and Nyamira.
Nairobi, Mombasa, Lamu, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Taita Taveta, Baringo, Bomet, Machakos and Nyandarua have also been mentioned adversely for failing to account for money allocated for various services.
With such a grim past regarding public expenditures, Kenyans can only hope that the new crop of MCAs will change tack and be the custodians of the public resources that they are meant to be.
Newly elected Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki said his term would see a total change in the way public finances are handled.
“It is about the people not MCAs and any project to be implemented has to override the interests of individual leaders. The projects must improve the lives of the people. All projects started by the former regime will be completed with the most viable receiving first priority,” he said.
MCAs, he noted should do the work for which they were elected.
“I have no business pampering MCAs to do their work. Their work is to vet nominees who will sit in my Cabinet and also scrutinise the budget proposals for the various projects we plan to undertake,” Mr Njuki said.
“I am the captain of the boat (county government) and MCAs are members of my team. If I fail, they also fail and if I succeed then we all belong to a winning team come the 2022 elections,” he said.
Nyandarua Speaker Ndegwa Wahome urged for computerisation of the Auditor General’s office and be integrated with county governments to enable real-time auditing of all expenses. He said some of the audit reports may not reflect the true picture given that it takes a long time to release them.
“Conducting an audit at the end of a financial year where tonnes and tonnes of documents, receipts, invoices, bank records and visit to project sites is done is wasteful and leads to an erroneous findings as most projects have since been completed and debts repaid,” he said.
He added that the Auditor General’s latest report covered up to June 30 last year showing Nyandarua MCAs owed the county government money but it had been repaid by June 30 this year.
Speaker Wahome recommended training for MCAs and incoming executives to enable them understand their roles, powers and available avenues to resolve disputes.