United in theft: How county officers siphon public funds

Kisii county assembly in session on April 28,2015. The MCAs are bitter of the lose of Sh9.5 million medical cover meant for them as the report was tabled in the assembly for more discussion. However, the assembly orderlies turned to journalists and threw them out for covering and taking pictures during the heated session. (Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

Since 2013, Kenya has spent more than Sh1 trillion on devolution, an ambitious pro-people initiative initially meant to take development down to millions starved of progress by a centralised, score-settling governance system.

However, five years later, devolution has proven a poisoned chalice some Kenyans continue to drink from. Some counties have become the new operating havens of corruption for governors and a litany of their followers.

Billions of public funds end up in the pockets of a few, newly wealthy individuals. Data from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) ties a number of former and current governors to the wanton plunder.

Grand heist

Throughout the country, governors, speakers, clerks and MCAs continue to collude to steal as much as they can from public coffers. Agencies charged with investigating, arresting or prosecuting the corrupt often form a large part of this narrative.

Of these cases, a curious one stands out. That of Kisii County, whose administration stands accused of misusing bursary funds over two financial years, a missing car and mortgages grant, ghost projects that have been paid for, as well as the incredible disappearance of an entire development budget running into billions of shillings.

The grand heist was only as a result of several smaller heists, all leading up to this big one.

On December 19, 2016, Kisii MCAs held a special sitting published through gazette notice No. 10580, to among other issues, deliberate on the fate of Sh110 million missing from the County Assembly Car and Mortgage Fund Account.

The Auditor General, in his report for the financial year 2014/15, had raised queries on how the fund was being managed and whether the full disbursement, a Sh350 million lump sum, had been deposited in the fund account.

In his reply to the audit queries by the Auditor General, the county clerk insisted that all payments had been made into the fund account of a local bank.

But the MCAs were still not getting their money, thus the request for the special sitting. Two MCAs, one former and another sitting, confirmed to Sunday Standard that the special sittings never took place. The MCAs were paid off not to attend.

“Eventually, the days gazette for the special sitting ended without any headway. We never had quorum,” Ronald Oduso, who at one point was the chair of the county’s Public Accounts Committee, said.

Investigations by Sunday Standard however reveal that information submitted by the clerk to the Auditor General with regard to the county executive depositing the entire Sh350 million to the fund account might have been falsified.

Corruption risks

On December 1, and under pressure from some MCAs, then Speaker James Nyaoga wrote to Kisii branch manager of Chase Bank seeking to find out whether the money had indeed been paid out.

“Reference is made to the Auditor General’s Report of 2014/15…it is indicated in the report that you received Sh110 million on behalf of Kisii County Treasury. The purpose of this letter is to confirm whether you received the said funds. Please treat this as urgent.”

 A day later, the bank responded.

“Salutations. We are yet to receive the balance of Sh110 million towards the said funds. We urgently demand for the balance to be remitted as per the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the bank and the Kisii County Assembly Service Board.”

Curiously, Sh100 million was once again listed and approved for the same fund and function in the 2016/17 budget. It is feared that this new allocation was meant to plug the gap created by the missing Sh110 million.

For Kisii though, the writing for probable malpractice had been on the cards for a while. In September 2016, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), on request of the administration, performed a corruption risk assessment into the systems policies and procedures of the county.

“There are weaknesses, inefficiencies and loopholes that may lead to the corrupt practices in the systems of work of the county assembly,” the report reads.

A department that showed some of the biggest loopholes was the county’s procurement procedures.

The anti-graft body advised that appropriate procurement methods be followed. This advice seems not to have been heeded as procurement procedures have over the years been flouted with fictitious payments made for no deliveries or services.

Inflated costs

Herimos Construction was paid Sh725,000 for the landscaping and branding of the county stand during the 2017 ASK show. The county did not have a stand at the show that year. Another company, Gilmog General Services, was paid Sh1,993,750 for the supply of T-shirts, caps, notebooks and colour brochures for use in 2017. Although the company had been paid, the T-shirts had not been supplied to any worker by the time we went to press.

On December 14, 2017, Omagos General Services was paid Sh900,000 for the alleged supply of ‘Dasani water’ to the county over a one-month period. A week later, another company, Bescapes Enterprises was paid Sh600,000 also for the supply of drinking water, bringing the total bill for this to Sh1.5 million.

Assuming the retail price of Sh50 for a 500ml bottle of water, it means Kisii County Assembly, in the span of a year, consumed 30,000 bottles of water. Officers within the current county administration told Sunday Standard no deliveries were made.

On the same day, December 14, Smarter Suppliers were paid Sh1,152,800 for the supply of tissue paper. Working with the average price of Sh40 per roll, this means that the county government consumed close to 80 rolls of tissue paper per day. The assembly has 70 MCAs. The county had not responded to our querries by the time we went to press.  

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