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Uhuru’s Sh9.2b Budget ‘typing error’ that shocked the nation

NATIONAL
By Wainaina Wambu | June 8th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he was Finance Minister.[File,Standard]

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Mwalimu Mati, the co-founder of Mars Group, an anti-corruption and fiscal transparency watchdog, exposed one of the biggest budget scandals in Kenya’s recent history.

In 2009, Mr Mati and some MPs alleged that President Uhuru Kenyatta (then Finance Minister under the grand coalition) had inflated figures when he sought extra funds for the 2008/2009 financial year.

When then Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara tabled the discrepancies of the Supplementary Budget in Parliament, a combative Kenyatta termed them “fictitious” and “made in bad faith.”

“I’m encouraging our Members of Parliament to avoid using information derived from institutions of doubtful professional capability,” he said.

Imanyara had accused Uhuru of misleading MPs that he would only draw Sh22 billion from the Consolidated Fund but had used their approval to withdraw Sh31 billion.

Imanyara would further accuse the government of either using the variation in the theft of public funds or to secretly pay off obligations in the dirty Anglo Leasing-type contracts that the comptroller of budget and the auditor general put at Sh56 billion.

Uhuru would later be forced to eat humble pie before TV cameras, attributing the discrepancies to “a typing error.”

“There may be figures that may not be 100 per cent correct as a result of computer inputs,” he would tell journalists at a press conference.

The shocking admission undermined the credibility of the National Budget, whose reading was due in a few weeks’ time.

When he made the statement, the House Finance Committee was scheduled to meet and interrogated the figures before voting on the matter.

“I’m completely confident there was no intention by the Treasury to defraud any single Kenyan, and I do believe ultimately the numbers would tally,” he told the press.

At the time, Uhuru was also the deputy prime minister in the coalition government.

“Yes, there may be a typing error, but that to me may not be a major cause of alarm,” said Uhuru. When the matter came to light, then Parliament Speaker Kenneth Marende referred the matter to the Parliamentary Finance and Budget committees for investigation.

“The Finance Committee will merely confirm that (no fraudulent activity) as the true position,” said Marende.

Questions flew as to whether he had personally double-checked the figures or he had been let down by subordinates.

“This is normal, one can never be 100 per cent (at times) there are mistakes in my written speeches,” said Uhuru.

Mars Group had analysed the supplementary budget against figures in the approved National Budget, alleging that they revealed systematic differences that might have caused MPs to vote for extra funds than was necessary.

According to the independent anti-graft watchdog, the total figure in dispute was just over Sh9.2 billion.

Mars Group alleged that 200 budget line items involving 35 ministries had been varied upwards.

Mati would challenge Uhuru to name those responsible and the true authors of the Supplementary Budget, adding that it was a deliberate ploy to hoodwink MPs.

Another concern by Mati was that out of every Sh100 spent, Sh85 went to recurrent expenditure, which includes salaries and allowances, while only Sh10 went to development projects. The grand coalition had one of the most bloated cabinets.

The controversy never ended there.

Two weeks later, fresh claims emerged that there were new discrepancies amounting to Sh10.7 billion in the revised supplementary budget that had been approved by Parliament.

Uhuru allies would rush to his support, painting Mars Group as publicity seekers.

According to Mati, the resubmitted supplementary estimates showed that even as the printed estimates’ error was rectified a “completely new set of errors and discrepancies has been introduced into the current recurrent and development estimates.”

“The variances between the revisions contained in the first and second versions of the Supplementary Budget cannot be a computer error but a deliberate parlance in cooking up figures,” he said.

The Sh10.7 billion errors impacted 211 line items spanning 36 ministries.

Mati further pointed out that recommendations made by the joint committee of the budget committee and the finance committee hadn’t been followed.

The two had recommended an independent forensic audit and the estimates withdrawn from the House and the Fiscal Management Bill be approved and enacted urgently.

Mati further alleged Uhuru made changes to the revised estimates without amending the Supplementary Appropriations Bill, 2009, meaning that Parliament had approved sums not contained in any law. This, he argued, created a loophole for the misappropriation of public funds.

On Thursday, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani will read the 2021/2022 Budget, with the government expected to spend Sh3.63 trillion in the new financial year.

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