Taita-Taveta County is staring at a budget crisis after several Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) petitioned the Controller of Budget to withhold over half a billion shillings allocated for Ward Development, citing several gross violations of financial regulations that govern the use of public funds.
Led by budget champions in International Budget Partnership (IBP), the CSOs noted that of all the monies allocated to the Ward Equalization Fund in the fiscal year 2021/22, only the bursaries met the legal threshold of complying with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) 2012.
In a letter dated 21st July 2022 and addressed to the Controller of Budget, over ten civil societies noted that Sh. 660 million had been allocated to Ward Equalization Fund out of the Sh 7.3 billion 2021/22 county budget with each of the 20 wards getting Sh 33 million.
The list of breakdown of monies allocated per ward shows that five million will go towards bursaries, six million for road maintenance, and two million for Vocation and Training Centers. An additional six million is allocated for community empowerment programs and the remaining would go towards the implementation of various ward projects.
Ms. Isabella Kidede, the IBP county coordinator, said the proposed implementation of projects and subsequent allocation under the Ward Equalization Fund remained illegal because it did not comply with the law.
She stated that most projects at the ward level were not reflected in the County Annual Development Plan as required by PFMA.
“The projects are not supported by any reference point including the Annual Development Plans. If the project is not captured by the ADP, where did it come from?” she asked.
County Annual Development Plan is a yearly schedule of proposed projects to be undertaken every financial year by the county government. It is extracted from the County Integrated Development Plan which is the five-year development master plan for a county government.
PFMA requires all public projects being undertaken by the county government to be reflected in the CIDP.
The petition is supported by officials of Haki Africa, Taita-Taveta Human Rights Watch, and Sauti Ya Wanawake amongst several other local civil society organizations.
The petition also stated that there was no sound basis for the projects as there was no evidence of public participation before they were approved.
“The ward projects were not subjected to public participation as the list of projects were not attached to the budget estimates that could be accessed from the county government and assembly’s website, but were attached in the approved budget,” reads part of the six-paged petition.
The petition further notes that constitutional organs like the County Budget Economic Forum which provides consultative services for the county government on different budget documents were kept in the dark about the projects and were not involved in the planning of the ward projects during the ADP deliberations.
Mr. Hajji Mwakio, the official with Human Rights Watch, said there was a lot of opaqueness in the projects that needed clarification and openness. He warned that lack of transparency was a sure recipe for misuse of public funds.
“The law governing the use of public funds is clear. We are demanding accountability for the public money,” he said.
Another issue that was raised in the petition was the principle of equity in the money allocated to the wards. While each ward is getting Sh 33 million, the CSOs are questioning the rationale behind the uniformity of the monies given that each ward has unique dynamics including population, poverty levels, and needs.
“There must be a rationale behind this uniform allocation of monies from the budget. The wards are not uniform at all,” argued Mr. Robinson Kizaro, a budget champion from Mwatate.
However, the petition asked the Controller of Budget to release Sh 100 million allocated for bursaries noting that there was a law in place to guide the process.
The petition, which is copied to the governor and clerk of the county assembly, says that the remaining money of over Sh 500 million should not be released until the county has complied with the laws.
The petition has received backing from a section of members of the public who accuse Members of County Assembly (MCA) of allocating monies on projects with little public value. Others claim that 2021 being the penultimate year before general elections, there was a need to be more vigilant on projects that are being implemented under the guise of the public good.
“With elections being next year, there is a need to scrutinize the budget and all its items to make sure no ghost projects are allocated money to fund campaigns,” said Mr. Jael Komu, a farmer in the Chawia ward.
Should the petition go through, a cash crunch is expected to hit the county and paralyze the targeted ward projects.