Counties spent billions on local travel despite Covid restrictions

NATIONAL |

Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o addresses the press at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Nineteen counties spent at least Sh6 billion on local travels in the financial year 2020/21, despite restriction of movement by the government to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

According to the latest report by Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o, during that period, physical meetings and travel restrictions to stop the spread of the virus were in place.

At the same time, most county governments had adopted the use of virtual meetings and many staff were working from home as directed by the Ministry of Health in its Covid-19 protocols and containment measures.

“Despite the protocol to contain the spread of Covid-19, the Controller of Budget noted high expenditure on local travel and subsistence,” read the report in part.

Nairobi County had the highest expenditure standing at Sh625.2 million, followed by Siaya at 452.23 million, Bungoma Sh429.54 million, and Machakos Sh405.25 million.

Tana River spent Sh401.37 million in travel expenditure, Kajiado Sh380.95 million, Kisii Sh381.02 million, Kitui Sh374.65 million, and Kiambu Sh339.72 million.

Others were Meru at Sh342.66 million, West Pokot Sh354.30 million and Turkana Sh306.42 million.

Nairobi County had the highest expenditure standing at Sh625.2 million. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Other high spenders were Uasin Gishu at Sh305.86 million, Vihiga Sh303.70 million, Kwale Sh282.89 million, Kakamega Sh280.44 million, Murang’a Sh253.08 million, Nyamira Sh278.44 million, and Nakuru which spent Sh253.88 million.

Dr Nyakang’o noted that public money should be spent prudently and responsibly, and recommended that the treasury for each county review expenditure on travel and subsistence allowances.

“Expenditure on non-core activities, such as traveling, should be rationalized to free funds to implement critical development programmes,” she stated.

At the same time, the report noted that expenditure on wages and salaries rose to Sh176.03 billion from Sh171.83 billion incurred in the 2019/2020 financial period.

It noted that expenditure on salaries was way above the limit set by the Public Finance Management (County Governments) regulations. 

However, Nyandarua, Kwale, Nairobi, Mandera and Tana River were within the allowable limit of 35 per cent.

Another notable observation in the report was the expenditure on pending bills, which Nyakang’o revealed had hit the Sh96 billion mark as of June 30, 2021.

Nairobi accounted for 56.6 per cent of the stock of pending bills at Sh54.32 billion, while Mandera had no pending bills. The report attributed high pending bills on over-commitment of budgets by the regional governments due to failure to adhere to approved work plans.

It was also noted that the under-performance of own-source revenue collection, and weak internal control mechanisms contributed to the challenge.

Nyandarua, Kwale, Nairobi, Mandera and Tana River were within the allowable limit of 35 per cent. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The COB challenged counties to prioritize the payment of pending bills as a first charge in the budget implementation cycle for the 2021/22 financial year before embarking on new financial commitments.

The report also flagged low expenditure by the counties in development, where only Sh116.07 billion of the total Sh398.01 billion was put to use.

Mombasa, Taita Taveta, and Murang’a Counties attained the highest absorption rate on development expenditure, while Baringo, Narok, Tana River, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu, Lamu, Busia and Nakuru recorded below 50 per cent.

Counties also recorded under-performance of their own revenue collection. They generated a total of Sh34.44 billion, which was 64.2 per cent of the annual target of Sh53.66 billion.

This was a reduction compared to Sh35.77 billion generated in the 2019/20 Financial Year.

Ward representatives in all 47 counties consumed a total of Sh2.18 billion on allowances against an approved budget of Sh2.58 billion.

Members of County Assemblies in Homa Bay and Kisii reported higher expenditure on sitting allowance than the recommended monthly ceiling of Sh124,800.

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