Bloated wage bill: Has Lenku finally seen the light?


Governor Joseph ole Lenku has intimated that the ballooning wage bill presents a “troublesome” situation and the biggest challenge that his administration must deal with. We agree, but assert that the governor should hardly be the one crying out loud for a problem that he ought to have dealt with eons ago.

To demonstrate the severity of the problem, Lenku told his attentive audience that the county spent up to 43.4 per cent of revenues on the wage bill, far in excess of the maximum of 35 per cent mandated by the County Public Finance Management (PFM) Act and Regulations (2015).

In fact, many observers believe the governor’s figures were conservative and hugely understated. The situation is dire, they say, with hiring of workers over the past administration having been done casually, with no interviews and no advertisements.

With Lenku having reappointed his previous team to continue serving into his second term, this is virtually the same team that has done nothing about this problem since 2017; in fact, the whole leadership of the county has all along been a part of the problem. The question then becomes: Why would anyone be so naïve as to expect them to act now, unless driven by some self-interest?

But the governor could have experienced a Damascus moment and needs to be given the benefit of the doubt. As he has rightly pointed out, the situation in the county workforce is no longer tenable. “It has been noted that hiring of new staff and promotions have been out of line with budget allocations,” he told the County Assembly in his speech.

These unplanned and unregulated promotions and re-designations of staff, Lenku said, have consequently exerted a lot of pressure on the wage bill. As a matter of fact, the latest report of the Controller of Budget for the first nine months of the financial year 2021/22, which was released in May, the county spent a whopping Ksh3.59 billion on personal emoluments, with an additional Ksh13.01 million paid manually. In contrast, the county incurred only Ksh1.09 billion on development programmes, which represented a decrease of 40.9 per cent compared to a similar period in the previous financial year.

In simple terms, Lenku has over the years presided over an unjustified increase in recurrent expenditure at the expense of development expenditure, largely through a bloated and irrational staff establishment that he is now whining about.

The last human resource audit for Kajiado County was done some eight years ago. This means there could be unaccounted or “ghost” workers on the payroll, while others may be performing tasks that are misaligned with their qualifications. But why was this situation allowed to go on for so long, considering the “whistle blower” Lenku has been at the helm the past five years?

The sudden interest in tackling the wage bill has led critics to become sceptical of the real intention of Lenku’s sudden interest in the wage bill. The wage bill, they contend, could be a smokescreen to get rid of opponents and those who supported his political rivals from their positions in the county government. If true, that would portend a serious departure from ethical behaviour and accountability on the part of the governor.

It should not be forgotten that matters to do with the hiring and firing of county staff are primarily the responsibility of the County Public Service Board. Indeed, the Board is itself headed by and comprised of the appointees of the governor. The admission that there is incongruence between the finance and human resource functions is therefore an admission that either or both of the human resource and finance functions have failed.

It is also an admission that the governor and his County Executive Committee Members have grossly failed in their task of overseeing and coordinating executive functions.

These are the facts. Voters are their own worst enemies. Whether Lenku actually rectifies the mess he himself created or not, it is shameful that the dividends of devolution have been lost upon Kajiado for so long due to inept leadership. It is a painful lesson for the voters of Kajiado.

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