Governors won’t question MCAs’ extravagance for fear of impeachment, says Isaac Ruto

Council of Governors Chairman Isaac Ruto.

Nairobi, Kenya: County governors, who will collectively oversee a whopping Sh226 billion this financial year alone, shockingly confessed they have lost control of Members of County Assemblies on a spending spree because they wield the frustrated allocation of more resources to development.

"The fear we have as governors and our executives is that we are potential targets by our MCAs who will simply impeach us if we question their expenditure," Ruto confessed to the Senate Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Tuesday.

The Constitution empowers county assemblies to impeach governors but the Senate must uphold the impeachment. Embu Governor Martin Wambora has since been impeached and is fighting to retain his seat in court but the Senate overturned the impeachment of Kericho Governor Prof Paul Chepkwony citing flimsy grounds raised by MCAs to justify his removal.

The Bomet Governor, asked about an Auditor General report that questioned the huge amount of funds spent lavishly on foreign trips by counties, replied they were unable to control spending by MCAs.

"What we now ask the Senate to come up with is legislation that can enhance fiscal discipline and financial prudence by the county assemblies to ensure that much of the resources at the county governments are directed towards development projects," Ruto told the committee chaired by Kakamega Senator Dr Boni Khalwale.

The admission by governors adds to a worrying trend where MCAs have even disregarded recommendations by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) to control public spending.

MCAs, through their Speakers' forum, have rejected a directive on recommended budget ceilings by CRA and Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo on the formula for sharing Sh30.2 billion between the assemblies and county executives.

Through the chair of the Speakers' forum Nuh Nassir they dismissed Ms Odhiambo and CRA, saying although CRA Chairperson's Micah Cheserem's advice was welcome, unfortunately it would not be factored in the ongoing budget-making process.

"However, we note that the advice is ill-informed, is not based on facts or figures and is out of touch with reality," Dr Nuh argued in the letter.

Nuh's letter dated June 20 was copied to chair of Council of Governors, Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro, Cheserem, Auditor General Edward Ouko, Commission for Implementation of the Constitution Chairman Charles Nyachae and Treasury PS Kamau Thugge. All county assembly speakers and clerks were also been copied.

Tuesday, Ruto said there was need for the Senate to expedite legislation aimed at reducing extravagance by MCAs. "We want the budgets to be passed by the MCAs this August to reflect recurrent expenditure within reasonable ceilings," Ruto told the committee.

The governor defended his colleagues against accusations that the county chiefs were on a spending spree of money from imprest accounts without specific reference from county assemblies. "Imprest is accessed according to procedures set down regarding expenditure of public funds. We do not collect and spend money at source," Ruto said.

He termed as rumour-mongering claims that majority of governors were spending funds without approval from county assemblies as required in law.

The county chief was put to task to account for the expenditure of the billions of shillings collected as revenue by counties between March and June 2013.

Ruto said governors were not in control of finances during the period. "We did not have a board survey to know how much cash was at hand by the time the Transitional Authority was handing over to us. We need supernatural powers to know how much was in drawers," Ruto said.

He admitted that although there existed cleared financial statements of accounts on the money deposited in the banks before country governments came to existence, there were no records as to how much was available in cash upon the dissolution of the defunct local authorities.

"I can admit there was a serious lapse because there was no board survey to conduct an audit to ascertain the money that was with various accounting officers and even revenue clerks as at the time the local authorities ceased from being," he added.

Ruto went on: "There was no evidence of revenue control sheet. All revenue collected should have been banked intact. In addition there was no Board of Survey constituted to verify cash and bank balances."

He also argued the officers seconded by TA were the ones directly managing the funds until September last year. Ruto explained delays by the TA to handover liabilities and assets was jolting service delivery in the counties.

TA is yet to provide county governments with lists of their assets and liabilities to enable devolved units take stalk of what they have. He urged that TA expedites the process of transferring assets and liabiliti.

Khalwale said his team would recommend that all transfer of properties by county governments be frozen for a least six months to enable TA compile its inventories. "But we believe common sense will prevail on exceptional circumstances and where there is need to expedite the transfer of property then that should happen. But virtually the process should be halted until after six months," he added.

Dr Ouko is expected to release his report on the status of funds collected as revenue by county governments from March to June last year, at the end of the month.