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Contractors decry living in poverty as counties delay to release payment

 Kisii County Commissioner Tom Anjere inspected the newly constructed Tabaka Riosiri road in South Mugirango Sub County. Anjere is familiarizing himself with projects funded by the National Government. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

When Michael Opiyo (not his real name) got a contract to conduct maintenance on a gravel road in Nyakach in 2019, he believed that within months after completing the project he would be smiling all the way to the bank.

Mr Opiyo had invested heavily to implement the project and had been optimistic that the dark shadows of delayed payments that have affected several contractors in the past, would not befall him.

The contractor claims he has been expecting about Sh10 million from the county government after completing the job.

Now, however, Opiyo is only clinging to the hope that his dues will be settled after the devolved unit failed to offset his pending bills. The development, he says has even forced two of his children in university to suspend their classes because he cannot afford fees.

"I borrowed Sh5 million to enable me to mobilize resources for the project and I am now living in fear because the bank can auction me any time," he says.

He is among hundreds of contractors who are yet to receive a penny from county governments in Nyanza after delivering services and goods to counties. So bad is the situation that some contractors claim that their pending bills date back to 2016 with some claiming that they have even lost hope in the prospects of getting their money.

While some of them claim their properties have been attached by credit facilities after failing to offset their loans, others claim to undertake projects for counties has turned them into beggars.

Reports by the Controller of Budget for the first quarter of the 2022/2023 financial year does not inspire hope in all the six counties in Nyanza.

Save for Nyamira which paid contractors nearly half of the money it owed in pending bills, Kisumu, Kisii, Migori, Homa Bay and Siaya did not make any significant payments to offset their pending bills and are grappling with monstrous pending bills.

Dubbed "County Governments Budget Implementation Review Report for The First Quarter of Fy 2022/23" the report indicates that as of September 30, 2022, Kisumu had pending bills amounting to Sh1.94 billion.

The amounts included Sh1.92 billion for development activities as well as Sh39.49 million for recurrent expenditure. The report covers July 2022 to September 2022.

The devolved unit is among those that have been struggling to offset the pending bills and has been under intense pressure from contractors who claim their lives have been disrupted by the failure of the devolved unit to offset the bills.

This is the horror that Moses Ochieng, another contractor, has had to contend with after renovating an ECD centre in Kisumu West for Kisumu in 2021. He claims he is still waiting for his pay to date.

"We are only getting information that we will be paid but so far no payments have been made," he says. He claims the county owes him Sh3 million.

The contractors have been piling pressure on administrations in Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii and Nyamira to offset the bill but little progress has been made.

Some of them abandoned projects halfway after the devolved units failed to offset the payments and have vowed not to return to the sites until their dues are paid.

 Stalled Kisumu - Kakamega road construction at Mamboleo junction that was initially being constructed by Solel Boneh International (SBI) company. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In Kisii, the county government began paying some pending bills as well as some contractors who are undertaking key mega projects.

The Gusii Contractors Association chairperson Peter Momanyi challenged Governor Simba Arati to pay the pending bills to allow for the smooth transition of key projects. "Some of the projects were approved for payment. We are requesting the governor to make the payments. Some of us are going deep into debt."

On Tuesday, Kisii Governor Simba Arati said the Pending Bills Committee was finalizing its report. "By the end of this month, we will have made genuine bills. We will pay for the work which has been done."

Kisii had pending bills amounting to Sh1. 33 billion as of September 30, 2022, despite the availability of cash in the County Revenue Fund, which stood at Sh831 million at the end of the

Last month, the Office of the Controller of Budget called on Kisii county leadership to take charge of the worsening pending bills situation to ensure genuine bills are paid without delay in the remaining period of the financial year.

In her report, Controller of Budget Dr. Margaret Nyakang'o says the county should identify and address issues causing delays in implementing development projects.

A similar development is also taking place in Migori where several contractors are only barely struggling to make ends meet despite betting on county jobs to change their fortunes.

While speaking to the Standard on phone, former Migori governor Okoth Obado, disclosed that by the time he was leaving office, the national treasury had not disbursed almost Sh2 billion.

"A project can take several months to be paid and when done, it can be paid after the financial year has ended," the former governor said. In his view, the national treasury disburses funds to the county government to carry out various activities including development projects which can only be paid after 100 per cent completion.

He said contractors who had worked must be paid because the projects in the county were legally awarded.

Recently, Migori Governor Achilo Ayacko said that the county government had not received funds from the national government for four months. The governor said the national government owes the county close to Sh2.6 billion. "Government should bring funds so that service delivery can continue," he said.

[Erick Abuga, Anne Atieno and Harold Odhiambo]

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