COG puts Controller of Budget to task over approval delays

The Council of Governors Vice Chairperson Ahmed Abdullahi addressing the media over the Equalisation Fund Bill, 2022. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

The Council of Governors (COG) has blamed the Controller of Budget (COB) for unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape involved in approving some of their budgets affecting service delivery.

The Governors led by Council of Governors Vice Chair Ahmed Abdullahi defended themselves against the findings of the latest County Budget Implementation Review report, which they say does not reflect the reality on the ground.

The Governors who were speaking at the COG headquarters in Nairobi dismissed the report, which has put Counties on the spot over usage of billions of shillings allocated to them annually accusing the COB not taking into account late disbursement of funds.

“The National Treasury delays in releasing funds, which affect salary payments for Counties employees, development budget and other operations while the COB approves the budgets before the money is spent, she does not take into account the late disbursement of funds,” said Abdullahi.

The Wajir Governor said the COB in her latest report was comparing nine months of expenditure against six months of receipts arguing the Counties that delay paying salaries will end up getting a better report compared to Counties that pay salaries on time.

Abdullahi said several Counties have made arrangements with financial institutions to have funds available so that they can pay workers on time even as the funds from the National Treasury are delayed stating that Wajir spends Sh400million monthly on Personnel Emoluments.

“If Wajir County was to delay staff salaries by three months, that is almost Sh1.2billion less on recurrent, the COB report will look wonderful, but will it be rational, should I leave my staff hungry so as to look good in the COB report or pay them in time and get a bad report?” wondered Abdullahi.

Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi challenged the COB to include provisions in the reports taking into account several intervention measures that Counties have put in place to cushion their workers in the event of funds delays and ensure smooth operations.

Cheboi said that for the COB reports to make sense, disbursements must be timely and that her office must reduce bureaucracies and allow the devolved units to operate smoothly with inherent delays in approving budgets from the Counties currently.

“The Controller of Budget has taken over the mandate of the Auditor General, especially when she demands for payment vouchers before approving the budgets, her office contributes to Counties having challenges in absorption of the funds,” said Cheboi.

The report that has caused an uproar among Governors was released last week by Controller of Budget Dr Margaret Nyakango showing that Nairobi, Bungoma, Mombasa and Taita Taveta Counties had the lowest absorption rates in their approved development budgets.

County Governments Implementation Review Reports for the last nine months of the 2023-2024 financial year shows Bungoma development record stood at 11.7 per cent, Nairobi City at 9 per cent, Mombasa at 7.7 per cent and Taita Taveta at 7 per cent respectively.

The report shows that Nairobi spent only Sh1.25billion on development expenditure out of Sh11.35billion, Bungoma (Sh660million) against a budget of Sh4.48billion, Mombasa (Sh369million) against a budget of Sh4.4billion and Taita Taveta (Sh163million) against a budget of Sh2.19billion respectively for development.

“The total expenditure by county governments in the first nine months of Financial Year 2023/24 was Sh274.08 billion, representing an absorption rate of 48.5 per cent of the total annual county governments’ budget of Sh564.53 billion,” said the report.

Dr Nyakango in a report released last week showed that the development expenditure for the County Governments in the first nine months of 2023/24 financial year amounted to Sh44.89 billion, translating to an absorption rate of 22.1 per cent.

A review of cumulative expenditure by economic classification showed that Sh146.53billion (53.5 per cent) was spent on Personnel Emoluments, Sh82.65 billion (30.2 per cent) on Operations and Maintenance, and Sh44.89 billion (16.4 per cent) on Development Expenditure.

However, Narok, Bomet, Uasin Gishu, Mandera, and Kitui Counties achieved higher absorption rates of their respective approved development budgets at 54.4 per cent, 48.8 per cent, 41.5 per cent, 38 per cent and 36.6 per cent respectively.

The total expenditure in the period amounted to Sh274.08 billion.