Councils in Western accused of funds misuse

Busia

By Joel Okwayo

Local authorities in Western Province have faced criticism over the implementation of the Local Authority Transfer Fund (LATF) as claims emerge of mega corruption in the awarding of tenders.

Whistle blowers claim chief officers and councillors have turned the fund meant to improve services into a cash cow, as they arm twist contractors to bribe them before winning tenders.

A recent report by the National Tax Association (NTA) cited widespread misuse of LATF in the region.

Busia Municipal Council, for example, is accused of failing to account for more than Sh1.2 million it received in 2006/2007 financial year.

The council received more than Sh17 million during the financial year, out of which six per cent went missing. The report indicates that ghost projects accounted for Sh1.2 million.

NTA Western Regional Co-ordinator Belinda Nekesa notes that residents were worried that their taxes are not being used effectively, as some projects have stalled.

Ms Nekesa cited a case where a school in Busia town was allocated Sh600,000 for construction of classrooms, but only received Sh200, 000. The difference cannot be accounted for.

She said chief officers in local authorities and contractors are colluding to embezzle devolved funds.

"We have cases where councillors demand kickbacks before they allow certain contractors to take up jobs in their wards. This has given room to graft and shoddy work," he said.

Kenya Local Government Workers Union also acknowledged that corruption is rife in local authorities.

The union’s Western Regional Secretary, Juvenus Orao, said tendering procedures are not being followed during hiring and purchasing of goods and services.

Fleece authorities

"Councillors and chief officers have formed companies, which they are using to fleece local authorities millions of shillings," said Orao.

He claims civic leaders were using LATF to make unnecessary trips abroad.

Orao made the remarks as it emerged that Kakamega Mayor Vincent Anjeche had travelled to the United Kingdom on an undisclosed mission while other councillors are in Uganda for a one-week trip in the company of the Town Clerk R Mukabwe. The trip by the councillors comes barely a week after the Government released LATF money to the local authorities countrywide.

He noted that Webuye Municipal Council has salary arrears amounting to millions of shillings.

"Workers at Webuye Municipal Council have gone without salaries for the last seven months," said Orao.

The same case is facing the Malakisi Town Council where the workers have gone for 11 months without pay. Orao explained that the union officials were finding it hard to tolerate the situation.

The Butere/Mumias County Council Chairman, Michael Keya, noted that the Government disbursed over Sh40 million to the council in the last financial year.

The chairman conceded that few projects have stalled "due to lack of money and poor co-ordination between councillors and the chief officers".

Wage bill

Keya noted that the wage bill has since gone up from Sh4 million to over Sh6.4 million monthly. The council treasurer, Reuben Wanjala, said the signing of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the union and the Ministry for Local Government caused the increment.

Keya said budgets are made public every June, adding that residents normally turn up in large numbers to scrutinise the report.

At the Mumias Municipal Council, several LATF funded projects remain incomplete. A modern market project along the Ekero-Bungoma road is one such project. It has stalled for the past three years.

Town mayor, Rashid Omwendo, however, said the ministry, and not the council, was funding the project.