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Wages for suspended officials burden Kenyans

Saturday January 25 2020

WAGE BILL

Salaries and Remuneration Commission Chairperson Lyn Mengich. She says the cases in which civil servants are charged with graft should be expedited, for the public to get value for money. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PAUL WAFULA
By PAUL WAFULA
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HILLARY KIMUYU
By HILLARY KIMUYU
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President Uhuru Kenyatta’s fight against corruption has had the unintended consequence of keeping hundreds of civil servants on the public payroll on half pay as the cases drag in court.

Though it is not clear just how much taxpayers are spending to keep the suspended public officials on the payroll, the growing numbers that continue to be shown the door to go and face corruption charges in court could see the taxpayer foot hundreds of millions a year for these employees who are at home.

Some top civil servants, among them Cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries, ended up earning half pay for months until they retired and were put on pension or their contracts ran out while doing nothing.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Some of those who have won their cases have begun suing their employer for damages in a trend that is set to further drain the taxpayer.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) says the government has been caught between a rock and a hard place since it has to honour the contractual obligations but at the same time ensure there is value for money.

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“There is a legitimate expectation on value for money since these employees are not productive in that period. But we must balance between the legal requirements in their contracts and the need to save taxpayers’ money,” Ms Lyn Mengich, the SRC chairperson, told the Saturday Nation in an interview.

Ms Mengich said her commission has a mandate to ensure public servants are productive, but there are other dictates of the employment contracts that the government must comply with and that is why there is very little they can do to save taxpayers from the burden.

EXPEDITE CASES

She however says the only way to mitigate the issue is to fast-track some of the cases so that those who are cleared can go back to being productive and those found guilty can be struck off the payroll.

“There is really not much we can do at this moment because it is not our mandate to expedite the cases in court. If the cases take too long, then these employees have to be kept on half pay until they retire or their contracts run out,” the SCR chairperson said.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani did not pick our calls to respond to questions on just how much money the government is spending on suspended civil servants.

When President Kenyatta appointed a new team to lead the anti-corruption purge, it was not yet clear just how costly the exercise would be if the cases took their time in court.

The two key people in the fight – Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji – hit the ground running, rounding off dozens of suspects and dragging them to court from several agencies and parastatals.

SUSPENDED OFFICIALS

They were joined by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), which also appeared to read the mood on the ground to send more people to court.

County bosses have also joined the list with the recent prosecution of Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu in July, 2019, and their Samburu counterpart Moses Lenolkulal (April, 2019).

Since governors are not suspended from office after facing corruption charges, they are perhaps the only cadre of public servants who continue earning full salaries as they battle graft cases.

Until he was replaced last week, former Treasury CS Henry Rotich and his PS Kamau Thugge were on half pay since July last year.

Cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries earn between Sh1 million and Sh1.2 million per month, respectively, on average.

Other principal secretaries suspended include Susan Koech, Sammy Itemere (August 2018), Lillian Omollo, Richard Lesiyampe (August 2018), Richard Ekai (March 2017) and Peter Mangiti (November 2016).

VETTING

Unless their services are terminated or their contracts expire, public servants are entitled to half pay for the remaining part of the contract until they retire.

Some who retired while fighting to clear their names in court include former Devolution PS Peter Mangiti, who has since sued the state after he won one of the NYS cases against him.

Hundreds of procurement officers and accountants were suspended in 2018 pending fresh vetting but continued to earn at least 50 per cent of their pay for all the time they were away.

About 400 were eventually cleared and went back to work, with some being moved around in departments.

In parastatals, the government has been forced to negotiate out-of-court settlements with a number of employees in efforts to deal with the wage bill costs associated with these separations.

Some of those that have been suspended or fired include former National Environment Management Authority director-general Geoffrey Wahungu, Kerio Valley Development Authority acting MD Francis Kipkech, KVDA managing director Kipchumba Kimosop, Inspector-General of State Corporations Titus Muriithi, Treasury chief economist Kennedy Nyachiro and Treasury director of resource mobilisation Jackson Kinyanjui.

Others include KVDA head of supply chain William Kipkemboi and Kenya Power MD Ken Tarus. Most of these officials were earning more than Sh500,000 a month.

KPC PURGE

At Kenya Power, the corruption purge was so lethal that it claimed the careers of almost the entire top management in one swoop.

To deal with the salary quagmire of having to pay people who were no longer productive, Kenya Power offered 15 top managers who had been suspended a deal costing the company at least Sh200 million.

Other managers who were suspended include National Hospital Insurance Fund CEO Geoffrey Mwangi and the Chief finance director Wilbert Kurgat.

Counties have also not been spared as more employees are sacked or suspended to face their accusers in court.

Samburu County has more than eight officers on suspension while Kiambu and Nairobi counties have dozens of employees draining the payroll as they watch the cases drag in court.

WAGE BILL

This comes at a time when Kenya is struggling to tame a bloated wage bill that is heading into the unsustainable zone.

On average, the wage bill has been growing at 12.4 per cent per year between the 2013 and 2019 financial years.

This has seen the wage bill rise from Sh434.9 billion in 2012/13 to Sh795.2 billion in the 2018/19 financial year.

Last year, the Kenya Revenue Authority collected Sh1.58 trillion in taxes, which means that half of all the money raised by the taxman was consumed by salaries alone.

This means that for every Sh100 collected from a Kenyan in taxes, Sh50 went to pay civil servants.

The other half is what was shared between running the national and county governments, leaving very little for development expenditure.