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Stop dubious pending bills in the counties

Tuesday July 23 2019

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The revelation by Auditor-General Edward Ouko that the pending bills in some of the 47 counties amounting to a whopping Sh57 billion are fake is hardly surprising. Indeed, it just goes to confirm that the counties are full of shenanigans and have become a major source of the haemorrhage of public funds.

Either that or, as some have noted, devolution, which is generally lauded for the most drastic transfer of resources from the centre to the periphery since Independence more than 50 years ago, has also become a conduit of graft. Even corruption, which has always been rampant in the central government, has, sadly, been devolved to the counties with disastrous effects.

A special audit has just confirmed that only Sh51 billion out of the total Sh108 billion presented by the counties as the total amount of pending bills is genuine and should, therefore, be settled. This exposé comes at a time when the Council of Governors and the senators have mounted a serious campaign to get the budgetary allocation to the counties increased. But if these additional resources will just end up lining the pockets of a few top officials in the counties and their cronies, then such an increase cannot be morally justified. However, it would be totally unfair to punish the would-be beneficiaries of the public programmes to be funded with increased allocations to the counties just because of the blatant thieving. It is crucial, therefore, that the loopholes being exploited by the crooked officials be sealed.

Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo has consistently flagged the suspect expenditure in the counties. The apparent discrepancy between the figure captured by the controller and what the special audit has found calls for greater scrutiny. It will be a betrayal of the people to sanction the payment of the suspect pending bills. After all, there have been reports of crooked people minting millions of shillings from supplying ‘air’ to the counties in collusion with wayward staff.

The special audit has also revealed that Sh37 billion presented for verification lacked documentation to support the claims, which were, most likely, based on goods or services never supplied. This should never happen. Counties must enhance their capacity to scrutinise quotations and evaluate bills so that no money is lost.

The cartels that have moved to the counties to take advantage of the lax controls and enrich themselves from dubious contracts, must be stopped. However, the suppliers who do genuine business with county governments should not be driven out by the crooks behind these questionable pending bills as payment delays have plunged some of them into serious debt, crippling their enterprises. A culture of transparency must be enhanced.