Members of County Assemblies burn billions in foreign trips
When you factor in the fact that out of the Sh8.8 billion which counties had allocated for local and overseas travel in 2013/2014 budgets, by December they had only spent Sh2.8 billion.
The difference of Sh6billion is what MCAs have been in a frenzy to spend flatout since January. They hope to clear this amount if times and destinations allow, by end of this month, when the financial year closes.
Such is the demand for cash that the county assemblies have rejected spending ceilings set by CRA and the Controller of Budget.
CRA chairman Micah Cheserem revealed that county assemblies have ignored both his commission and Controller of Budget directive’s on budget ceilings, insisting they will apply their own formula in sharing revenue meant for service delivery in the regional governments. Cheserem yesterday cited several county assemblies, among them Lamu, Kisumu, Kakamega, Kwale and Makueni, which are sending large delegations of MCAs to countries in the Far East and America.
“What has disturbed us most is that we have been told of huge delegations making trips to ostensibly spend the monies allocated to county assemblies,” Cheserem explained.
He gave the example of Makueni where all MCAs are set to tour Singapore this week. “We are informed for instance that Makueni County Assembly has only spent about 55 per cent in their budget and this trip is apparently meant to ensure these funds are utilised,” Cheserem told journalists in Nairobi.
Apart from Makueni, he said all MCAs from Kisumu were in Nairobi en-route to Israel, while their counterparts from Kakamega were headed to Malaysia. Those from Kwale were Singapore-bound, ostensibly on benchmarking missions. All MCAs from Lamu are also planning a trip to the US later this month.
“MCAs are rushing to Israel to see the birth place of Jesus Christ which is okay but obviously not prudent use of public resources as the Constitution demands,” Cheserem explained, adding that the MCAs had resorted to blackmailing hapless governors and Treasury chiefs in the counties with threats of impeachment if they failed approve the trips.
Inquiries by The Standard showed MCAs from counties across the country are making whistle stop tours of world capitals. Singapore, Dubai, Israel, China and Switzerland are among their favourite destinations perhaps because of the world class shopping facilities and luxurious treats that are to be found there. But the trips are justified as benchmarking and learning experiences.
This came even as the MCAs, through their speakers’ forum, rejected a directive on recommended budget ceilings by the CRA and Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo on the formula for sharing Sh30.2 billion between the assemblies and county executives.
The Controller of Budget wrote to all governors and County Assembly clerks on June 14 and attached the formula by CRA notifying them on the need to comply with the Public Financial Management Framework when compiling the 2014/15 budget to enable her office to approve them in time.
Among the eight conditions set by Odhiambo is that allocation to the county assembly be based on the CRA circular dated April 22 on budget ceilings. “All County Governments should strictly follow these requirements to avoid inconveniences in budget execution,” she said in a letter copied to Cheserem among others.
However county assemblies, through the chair of the Speakers’ forum Nuh Nassir dismissed the Controller of Budget and CRA, saying although Cheserem’s advice was welcome, unfortunately it won’t be factored in the ongoing budget making process.
“Where the Commission on Revenue Allocation’s advice is welcome, it’s unfortunately too late to be considered. 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.
He went on: “Unfortunately though, your letter emphasising county government entities to adhere to your advisory, is a veiled directive and no longer passes for an advice. The county assembly’s mandate to approve budgets of county governments is stipulated in the PFM Act 2012 and is clear of ambiguities and your attempt to direct assemblies on the quantum of expenditures is unwarranted.”
Nuh’s letter is dated June 20 and is copied to chair of Council of Governors Isaac Ruto, Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro, Cheserem, Auditor General Edward Ouko, Commission for Implementation of the Constitution chairman Charles Nyachae and Treasury PS Kamau Thuge. All county assembly speakers and clerks have also been copied.
According to the CRA formula, counties are expected to receive Sh238.2 billion this year, of which Sh30.233 billion will be allocated to county assemblies and county executives for their salaries and allowances.
Of these, Sh16,876,992,217 will be allocated to county assemblies while county executives will receive Sh13,355,997,396.
From the Sh16.9 billion for county assemblies, MCAs will take about Sh8.4 in salaries, allowances and gratuities. Speakers and their deputies take about Sh584 million, staff about Sh1.4 billion while Sh1.14 has been set aside for mileage for MCAs.
From the Sh13.4 billion allocated to county executives, executives will get about Sh1.3 billion, chief officers Sh946 million, governors and their deputies Sh845 million, while county public service board will get Sh974 million.
Cheserem warned that failure to adhere to this ceiling may expose county executives to a cash crunch
“Budget ceilings is a standard practice in the national government. Every public office from the Presidency, National Assembly, Senate, Judiciary and other offices are given budget ceiling by the national Treasury and each has to justify excess spending requests over such ceilings,” he said.