By George Githinji
Recent happenings in the county governments point to a leadership that is not properly endowed with the requisite skills essential to steer these entities. For example, Nyamira county government puts up a gate for sh9 million, Governor Lusaka of Bungoma buys 10 wheelbarrows at an inflated cost of sh109,000 each, and Embu Governor Martin Wambora pays sh2 million to a communications firm to open a Facebook page for him.
Other bizarre matters include the ever repetitive issue of county officials minting millions out of foreign trips and local conferences or ‘bonding’ sessions and county assembly members claiming sitting allowances for committee sessions that that they never attend.
Governor Simon Kachapin of West Pokot was recently quoted in the media as having threatened to chase away journalists for reporting about corruption and bad leadership in his county. The same happened in Homabay when the county assembly decided to bar journalists from accessing the assembly, allegedly after the media reported about the sh51 million unsupported expenditure in the county.
Uasin Gishu County Assembly has also been accused of barring the public from accessing their ward representatives. Not to forget the sh7 million curtains purchased by the Meru County government that has raised serious eyebrows from the county residents.
These dubious and inflated costs of items in the counties represent a flawed and shady procurement system. The tendering and procurement system in Kenya is one of the avenues synonymous with massive loss of funds and corruption. Costs are inflated so that certain individuals can benefit from kickbacks when the tenders are issued without regard for open and transparent tendering processes. The case of the county government of Bungoma present such a scenario where the cost of a wheelbarrow, which at the prevailing market rate is sh10,000, is inflated by an astonishing 1,090 percent.
The information regarding the procurement and tendering in the counties is not made public, or if made available, the figures are never broken down. That is one reason why the counties are getting such a huge backlash because the public believes that the money has been stolen. Transparency in financial management in the counties is still wanting and the public should organize to demand accountability from their county officials.
The constitution is also categorical about the importance of public participation and public access to their elected representatives. Public participation includes public and media access to county assembly business during the plenary and the committee sessions, unless the speaker rules otherwise and in exceptional circumstances.
The West Pokot governor, Uasin Gishu County and the County Assembly of Homabay are breaking the law by threatening and barring journalists and the public from reporting on malpractices or accessing the elected representatives in the counties and that is a serious affront to the Constitutional provision on public participation. The county governments are supposed to perform their business in an open and transparent manner inclusive of public participation and with scrutiny of the media, which informs and shapes public opinion on the manner in which the counties serve the public.
The case of the County Assembly of Homabay barring journalists from the chambers also put into question the capacity of the assembly to play crucial oversight on public expenditure in the county. The assembly appears to lack integrity and the moral capacity to ensure that the county government accounts for all the money budgeted for in any financials year.
Its implication in financial malfeasance regarding the expenditure of sh51 million portrays it as a weak assembly that disregards public interest for its own selfish interests. It is now up to the residents of Homabay to organize and to demand accountability from their elected officials.
The Writer is a Political Scientist and comments on socio-political issues in Kenya – blogs at Politics Kenya