Why Nyamira County is on its sick bed

Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama in his office. [Stanley Ongwae/Standard]

.The Nyamira County executive and Assembly are locked in a budget stalemate that threatens to crush service provision.

The County Assembly passed the Sh6.5 billion last week, but the executive rejected it, citing "anomalies".

Deputy Governor Amos Nyaribo, who has been running the county following the long absence of Governor John Nyagarama, wrote to the Controller of Budget (CoB) to allow for a vote-on-account expenditure after rejecting the budget estimates.

Governor Nyagarama had been in the US for more than a month to seeking medical attention and returned just last week to bury his son, who died while he was away.

The MCAs say the plea to the CoB will not work.

“There are exceptions when the idea of vote-on-account can work, but not as the case we have at hand,” said Assembly Speaker Duke Omoti.

By vote-on-account, the county can be allowed by the CoB to spend up to half of the anticipated appropriations before a budget is enacted.

But the MCAs hope the budget will automatically become law by the end of this week, ending the financial crisis.

The problems

Meanwhile, little work is going on in the county.

Unpaid salaries, a sky-rocketing wage bill, the ongoing nurses' strike and internal wrangles are all pointing to a governance system that is on its sick bed.

No hospital is offering services due to a boycott by medics, who are protesting delayed payment of their three-month salaries and allowances.

On Monday, the Kenya National Union of Nurses, through Secretary General Seth Panyako, officially declared the go-slow of nurses and informed all members to stay at home until all their pending salaries are paid and an official return-to-work formula to that effect is signed.

“Working without pay in this current state of economy is terribly demoralising and embarrassing because dignified staff have been reduced to beggars without explained reasons,” Panyako said.

All other unions of healthcare workers in the region have also urged their members to stay away from their work stations until they are fully paid.

Besides the health staff, other county staff working in various offices are at work, but reluctantly, with levels of service delivery going down by the day.

A spot check in most county offices revealed that staff in various offices report late to work and leave early.

Mr Nyaribo, however, downplayed the crisis, saying all would be well in the next few days. He said the county would receive funds before the end of this month.

"There were issues with the budgeting that prolonged the crisis, but the issues are not out of hand yet," said Mr Nyaribo, who has been running the county in the absence of the governor.

Yesterday, he said Finance executive Jackline Momanyi was at the National Treasury in pursuit of the money.

But in the county offices, fear that salaries may go unpaid for another month or two, remained, with those interviewed citing the stalemate over the budget.

The budget will have to be approved by the Controller of Budget before the National Treasury can release funds to the county’s consolidated account.

Budget experts also say the financial problems dogging Nyamira may not end soon if the county’s ballooning wage bill is not properly deflated.

Unhealthy spending

County Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Richard Onyinkwa said the county was currently "unhealthily" spending on salaries and other recurrent expenditures at the expense of development.

Mr Onyinkwa, a Certified Public Accountant, said the governor had to act on reducing the wage bill if he hoped to take the county to the next level on matters development.

“It is like the Government is existing to pay workers and not to develop,” he said.

In the 2018/19 budget, the county allocated Sh1.9 billion for development and Sh4.6 billion for recurrent expenditure.

Of the Sh1.9 billion for development, Sh600 million is meant to pay pending bills, meaning only Sh1.3 billion will be used to develop the county.

But Governor Nyagarama early this year said the low absorption of development projects was a result of delayed or slowed disbursement of funds from the National Treasury.

“We have our development plans, but the National Treasury had been starving us of funds, and that's the reason why we have so much unspent balances carried forward from the last financial year,” Nyagarama said.