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Counties must never be pushed to the wall, again

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, October 5th, 2020
Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya (centre) accompanied by governors after a past hearing of a county allocation bill case at the Supreme Court. Photo/PD/File
In summary

Governors are at the end of their tether. According to the chairman of the Council of Governors (CoG), Wycliffe Oparanya, counties have not received any money for the 2020/21 financial year which started three months ago.

Counties are now on their knees. They are broke. And this is very bad news for Kenyans.

County workers have gone for three months without salaries. Doctors are on strike in many counties countrywide, agitating for their money.

Bills for utilities are unpaid. Governors have now stated they will close down counties and send all workers home until Treasury sends them money.

This is not the first time that governors are threatening to close down counties.

Three weeks ago, governors issued the same threat at the height of the revenue distribution stalemate, when senators could not agree on the formula for sharing out money allocated to the counties.

On the day the closure notice was due to take effect, the senators finally reached a compromise.

Strangely, the same people whose failure to agree was the cause of the delayed remittance to counties were the very ones who were the loudest in castigating the governors- and offering no solutions.

Well, an agreement was reached on the distribution formula about three weeks ago.

That left the Senate, the National Assembly, and the Treasury to now undertake the formalities that are necessary for money to be transferred to county governments. 

Three weeks down the line, nothing has happened. Countless promises have been made that counties are going to receive money shortly to no avail. Worse, reports now have it that counties are unlikely to receive any money for another week at least. This is unconscionable. 

And the Senate, which is the body empowered to take care of the interests of counties, seems to have disengaged after the political interest of senators in the revenue sharing debate was secured. Governors are now on their own!

The irony of all this is that anybody employed by the national government is hardly ever affected by the transition between one budget cycle to another, simply because there are very elaborate transition mechanisms that govern this period to ensure there is minimum disruption of government services.

There clearly is a yawning gap, and one fails to understand how the framers of the law governing county financial managements overlooked this. It was a big oversight.

Two things need to happen.

The first is urgent and should happen immediately. The speakers of both houses of Parliament, Treasury cabinet secretary, the Controller of Budget, and the CoG need to hold a meeting immediately to agree on how funds can be released to counties without further delay.

The steps agreed at that meeting must be made public, and the speakers of both houses must issue a daily update until the Controller of Budget announces to the public that the money has been released to counties, and counties confirm receiving the same.

Two, the government must institute legislation that amends the provisions that govern the financial management of counties.

These need to be changed so that the transition between budget cycles for counties becomes similar to that of national government, making it seamless.

It really is unacceptable that the national government can be going about its business in blissful complacency, while counties, where government provides services to wananchi through the devolved functions, have their services disrupted every year because of transition during budget cycles. This is poor planning.

These provisions have been instituted to tide the government over during the period when debates on the budget and parliamentary approvals are taking place.

This is a critical move in stabilising counties, and service provision for the people of Kenya. 

This will ensure that this highly embarrassing, nay, shameful, episode of causing counties to suffer such indignities never happens again. [email protected]

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