Senate committee probe legal fees paid out by counties
A senate committee has said it will probe billions of shillings paid by county governments to individual lawyers and their law firms as legal fees.
This is after Auditor General Nancy Gathungu flagged several counties for violating section 71 (2) of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2015.
The Senate Committee on Devolution and Intergovernmental Relations says that counties could have saved billions of shillings paid to third parties, had they have embraced alternative dispute resolution mechanisms or utilised the office of the County Attorney.
Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’, who chairs the committee, accused devolved units of not only failing to utilise the office of the county attorney to settle court cases but also shying away from embracing alternative dispute resolutions.
“There is credible information that has reached my committee that various instances when these monies are paid to lawyers as legal fees, they are quickly shared out to people who caused the payment,” Kajwang told journalists at Parliament Buildings.
“We want to find out why county governments still incur huge legal expenditures, yet parliament has provided them with a legal framework to engage county attorneys that can reduce their exposure to legal fees,” he added.
Citing a report by the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGTRC) on the impact cost of legal fees commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Homa Bay lawmaker said it has proposed that if counties utilise alternative dispute resolution, they can save billions of shillings that they are currently paying to third parties.
The Auditor General’s report for 2019/2020 financial years has fingered devolved units for outsourcing legal services at exorbitant prices.
For instance, during the year under review, the Wajir county government paid Sh21.2 million as legal fees to law firms.
However, an examination of payment records and other supporting documents revealed an amount of Sh17.6 million was paid to one company.
According to the Auditor General, this implied that most of the legal cases were handled by one firm although there were 20 law firms pre-qualified.
Further, a firm that was not on the prequalified list under the provision of legal services was directly engaged and paid Sh3.4 million.
“Under the circumstances, it was not possible to ascertain whether the law firm met the eligibility and capability criteria as provided under section 71 (2) of the public procurement and asset disposal act 2015,” the audit says.
In Kisii county, a review of the legal documents from the county attorney’s office revealed that various court cases were pending against the Kisii county government some of which were inherited from the defunct local authority.
Out of these, 12 were ruled against the devolved unit and the plaintiffs or claimants awarded Sh76 million.
However, the county government has so far not settled the court awards and no evidence was adduced on any appeals on the matters.