Taita-Taveta Governor Granton Samboja has launched a scathing attack on his predecessor John Mruttu whom he blamed for saddling the county with staggering pending bills that he said have stalled development in the region.
Samboja said Mruttu left the county with bills totaling Sh1.2 billion, a financial burden that has turned into a millstone around the county’s neck strangling any measures aimed at rapid transformation of the County.
Speaking at Vighombonyi in Wundanyi on Sunday while opening a fully-equipped dispensary in the area, Samboja did not mince words as he tore into the former governor and blamed him for evading his obligations to pay the pending bills which had accumulated from 2013 to 2017.
The governor admitted that it has been difficult navigating the challenge of paying county debts and initiating development at the same time.
“I did not know what awaited me once I assumed this office. I discovered Mruttu had left behind debts totaling Sh1.2 billion which I have been paying since then,” he charged.
Samboja alleged that were it not for the bills, development in the county would be rapid. He however pledged to utilize the available funds to fulfil his development pledges though at a slower rate.
He said that out of the total allocation of four billion the county receives annually as equitable share, over a half went to pay salaries for county workers while the rest went to the County Assembly, clearing of debts and funding development projects in the county.
“Out of the Sh4 billion we receive, over Sh2.6 billion is set aside for salaries while the County Assembly takes Sh652 million. I am only left with Sh800 million to pay the pending bills and do development,” he said.
His administration had to date cleared bills totaling Sh650 million.
“We still have over Sh700 million to pay to clear all the bills we have,” he said.
Observers say the frequent barbs hurled at Mruttu betray the current administration’s jitters and frustrations at the snail-paced rate at which development projects in the county are taking. Elected in 2017, this is Samboja’s third year in office with two more to go before campaigns kick in.
Though the two leaders have occasionally met during some public functions, there is still no love lost between them following their bitter rivalry from the 2017 general election. After he defeated Mruttu, Samboja formed two task forces to probe development projects done by his predecessor and to probe the issue of pending bills.
There were claims that some of the pending bills were fictitious and needed verification. Since then Samboja has viewed the pending bills as an economic burden with the potential to wreck his election pledges and development record.
Since 2017, a number of capital-intensive projects have been launched with the most visible being the upgrading of Dawson Mwanyumba Stadium in Wundanyi and the ongoing construction of a banana processing plant in Taveta sub-county.
The governor recently opened an upgraded outpatient wing at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi and a modern footbridge in Kaloleni. A fortnight ago, he also launched George Faraji dispensary in Werugha.
While his supporters say he has done relatively well in terms of connecting rural villages with piped water, construction of rural access roads and upgrading a number of health facilities, his critics say the county has not done much compared to neighbouring counties. It is such views that are said to have contributed to such bare-knuckle attacks that have become common whenever a project is being launched.
However, claims that Mruttu is to blame for the slow development are spiritedly challenged by a section of local leaders who dismiss them as an attempt to weave a 2022 narrative to justify the lack of development in the county.
Abedi Malusha, a Civil Society Organization (CSO) leader who was an official in the former regime, said pending bills are part of all governments because the norm is to get services and pay later. He added that pending bills were for projects that were budgeted for and money set aside for them.
“Governments work in perpetuity because they all serve the common man. If a project was budgeted for, any new government should complete it and pay for it. That is the practice,” he explained.
He also wondered about Samboja administration’s own bills since 2017 when the incumbent assumed office.
“Verified bills by the Controller of Budget were around Sh600 million by end of 2017. How that has shot up to over one billion in 2020 yet it is still being blamed on Mruttu remains a mystery,” he said.
When contacted, The County Executive Committee Member for Finance Mr. Andrew Kubo promised to get back with clarification but had not by time the story was filed.
Ms. Isabella Kidede, an International Budget Partnership (IBP) trained budget expert in Taita-Taveta said there was need to shed light on the issue of pending bills because there was money set aside for clearing the debts.
She disclosed that her team had requested for itemized pending bills with years accrued and the amount owed to keep track of the payments but that information has never been availed.
“It would be helpful to get a breakdown of the bills the county has to see what is being paid. This can also shed light on which bills belong to who,” she said.
By Wagema Mwangi