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County assemblies race to beat housing deadline for chiefs


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County assemblies race to beat housing deadline for chiefs


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An incomplete house, which was meant to be the residence for Elgeyo-Marakwet governor in Kamariny on March 14, 2018. The court had stopped its construction due to a lack of public participation.PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

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Summary

  • None of the 47 counties has delivered a house for county assembly speakers with just a year remaining before the allowances are scrapped on June 30, 2022.
  • The SRC in 2015 directed the counties to build the houses to save the devolved units Sh13.26 million spent on monthly rent for three top county officials.
  • The SRC has twice extended the deadline but said it would not be a third time lucky for counties that will not have built the houses.

Counties are racing against time to construct residences for governors, their deputies and speakers of the county assemblies ahead of the scrapping of monthly housing benefits for the three officers in June next year.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) said Homa Bay and Kajiado had built residences for their governor and deputy governor by August last year. Kilifi had delivered the governor’s house while Isiolo built a house for its deputy governor.

None of the 47 counties has delivered a house for county assembly speakers with just a year remaining before the allowances are scrapped on June 30, 2022.

Nairobi County’s efforts to get a house for its governor remain clouded in controversy as ward representatives and the executive trade jabs over plans to refurbish a house in Lavington that hosted former mayors.

The SRC in 2015 directed the counties to build the houses to save the devolved units Sh13.26 million spent on monthly rent for three top county officials.

Governors, their deputies and speakers are each entitled up to Sh200,000 in monthly allowances.

“The commission reiterates that the June 30, 2022 deadline for leasing of houses still applies. Counties are, therefore, reminded to hasten [the] construction of the houses by allocating funds,” says the SRC in a circular to county secretaries and assembly clerks.

The circular was also copied to the Treasury PS Julius Muia, Council of Governors, Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o and Commission of Revenue Allocation chair Jane Kiringai.

The Treasury has in the past said taxpayers spend Sh5 million in monthly rent for the governors, Sh4.51 million for their deputies and Sh3.75 million for the speakers, translating to Sh159.12 million per year.

Under the 2017 SRC guidelines, the Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu governors get Sh200,000 every month as house allowances while their counterparts in the other counties get Sh100,000.

Deputy governors in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu get Sh185,000 while the rest get Sh90,000. Speakers in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu get Sh150,000 in monthly rent allowances while their counterparts in the other counties get Sh75,000.

The SRC has twice extended the deadline but said it would not be a third time lucky for counties that will not have built the houses by end of June next year.

Pending bills

In an economy where own-source revenues for the 47 counties has taken a hit from the coronavirus economic disruptions, the construction of the houses will be a tall order as the units juggle priorities amid a mountain of pending bills and growing demand by residents for new projects.

Counties are set to endure one of the worst years in own-source revenue since 2013 due to Covid-19-induced economic woes that have piled more pressure in the face of millions of shillings that must be allocated to build the houses.

Own-source revenue for the 47 devolved units in the six months to December declined by Sh2.61 billion to Sh12.72 billion from Sh15.33 billion in a similar period a year earlier, in the wake of the pandemic.

For the devolved units that have delayed the projects, the year starting July promises to be a tough one as they must allocate budgets for the houses, piling more pressure on funds for basic projects like roads and healthcare.

Ballooning wage bill

The ballooning wage bills also continue to squeeze funds for the delivery of development projects.

Senators capped the budget of building houses for the governors, their deputies and assembly speakers at Sh45 million but the devolved units have gone ahead to splurge hundreds of millions on the residences.

Some of the counties have come under sharp criticism for overshooting the set budget ceilings for the housing projects.

The budget for construction of the governor’s house is Sh45 million while that of the deputy governor is capped at Sh40 million and for the speaker at Sh35 million.

Vihiga allocated Sh103 million for the construction of the governor’s house while Kilifi spent Sh140 million to deliver a mansion for Governor Amason Kingi.

Mr Kingi’s residence stirred a storm for its tunnel that leads to the Indian Ocean in what Kenyans decried as unnecessary opulence footed by taxpayers.

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Kilifi County governor’s house is said to have been bought at Sh140 million. FILE PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Land grabbed

Embu, home to the current chair of the Council of Governors Martin Wambora, said the land for building the residences was grabbed.

Nairobi, the country’s seat of power, has seen the executive and county assembly feud over whether to refurbish the mansion that hosted the former city mayors in the leafy Lavington suburb or build a new house for its county chief.

With the pressure to allocate funds for development projects due to a ballooning wage bill, the devolved units must now free up at least Sh120 million to build the houses in the year to June.

The Budget preparation for the year starting July offers the devolved units an opportunity to enjoy the housing allowances for governors, deputy governors and speakers one last time.



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