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Kiambu county governor Waititu faces questions over audit
Kenya’s devolution experiment has produced many surprises in its first six years, as the 47 units struggle to find their purpose and structure as mini-governments.
One of the things that have caused the most angst is creative accounting, which has thrown up such items as “non-carcinogenic wheelbarrows” and oddly expensive cows.
It was hard to imagine any new cases of such budget items would make the headlines again, but late last week, one did just that. At a Senate hearing, Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu was as shocked as everyone else when he was asked to explain why it appeared he was funding some functions of the national government.
- The county’s 2017/18 audited accounts had lines for coordination of State House functions, benefits to retired Presidents, free primary education, and the South Sudan peace process. It had also budgeted KSh591m ($5.85m) for the State Corporations Advisory Committee.
- The county is the home and political base of President Uhuru Kenyatta, which is perhaps why the president’s chief of staff tweeted:
Just for the record . @StateHouseKenya does not share any budgets with the County Government of Kiambu.
— Nzioka Waita (@NziokaWaita) May 2, 2019
‘What I have seen is also new to me!’
Governor Waititu disowned the budget items, and offered a plethora of possible explanations:
- “This is something that has been done without my knowledge just to make my administration look bad”;
- The document could have been a misuse of the National Government template in the Treasury of Kiambu County;
- He also tried to shift the blame onto his predecessor, William Kabogo, saying the budget was made in his time. Kabogo responded on Twitter:
Shame on Waititu trying to shift blame. Ask your assembly for this information. I’m not surprised that you got no clue in what is where.
— Hon. William Kabogo (@honkabogo) May 3, 2019
There are two possibilities here, that it was a genuine mistake left after copying the national budget, or it was deliberate, and the money has already been used. Both possibilities are scary, if not a little sad, as they suggest that no one is really looking at the county’s budgets with the attention they deserve.
“It looks like a mistake, but the fact that the money was spent tells you someone took advantage of it,” says Kwame Owino, CEO of the think tank Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). “Something like that should not happen. The governor, as the accounting officer, should have flagged it himself and gone back to the county to correct it.”
The Senate ordered a special audit of the county’s books in 45 days, even as the governor and his allies went on a charm offensive to control the narrative. So far, this has included direct support from Deputy President William Ruto, who told a church congregation that Waititu shouldn’t worry because those budget functions are handled by the national government. Waititu himself has alluded to the onslaught against him being primarily because of his support for Ruto, but it’s just one of several explanations he’s tested out in less than a week.
Who is Governor Waititu?
- Waititu was a politician in Nairobi city before his moved his base to neighbouring Kiambu after losing to Evans Kidero (who was himself in court last week on corruption charges) in 2013.
- He has several times been arrested for hate speech, most recently in 2016, for which he was acquitted for lack of evidence.
- In 2017, he rode on angst against the then Kiambu Governor, William Kabogo, to clinch the Jubilee ticket, which all but guaranteed him the county’s top seat.
- As a governor, he’s launched several populist initiatives, including a county-funded alcohol rehabilitation program called ‘Kaa Sober’. He’s also been involved in some prominent public spats, including a time his peer in Nairobi leaked an audio of a phone call in which Wiatitu urged Nairobi governor Mike Sonko to release his wife, who has been arrested.
Two states out of 47 get clean audits
When two counties received clean audit reports earlier this year, it was the first time in the entire devolution experiment that any county had its accounts in order. The problem, Owino tells The Africa Report, is that “counties have learnt that the entire pipeline of public finance management is so weak and leaky, that these same tricks apply at the national level”.
One way to skim off money is to inflate the prices of items and services, as happened when Bungoma County bought the wheelbarrows at $1100 apiece. Another is to put in fictitious budget items and just find ways to spend against them, which would require a lot of cooperation.
“If this had happened at the drafting level, then it wouldn’t have been a problem. But because it was drafted, passed, and spent, then it suggests a conspiracy,” says Owino.
- For it to work, it would have required everyone in the pipeline from the technical team, the county assembly, and county executive. That no one flagged it throughout this entire process, the way Owino sees it, is emblematic of either a conspiracy or a genuine lack of capacity.
For Governor Waititu, who is no stranger to controversy, the new special audit may make or break his political career. If it was a genuine error or was sneaked in by his political enemies, he comes off as incompetent. If it was deliberate, then that would mean he is overseeing the looting of one of the richest counties in Kenya. Either option is bad, but Waititu is a politician who has shown a manic ability to survive pretty much anything.