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Kenya Minister risks egg on the face

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 10 – A coalition of civil society organisations has sustained pressure on Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta to explain the Sh9.6 billion discrepancy in the recently approved Supplementary Budget.

In a letter to the joint Parliamentary committees investigating the matter, the Partnership for Change lobby has dismissed Mr Kenyatta’s explanation that the anomaly might have resulted from a typing error.

"We do not believe that computer error is at play here – it is an afterthought having failed to convince Parliament 48 hours ago," they said in the letter. “We believe that if computer error were to blame, the very first response of the Minister would have been to check with his officers and thereby prevent the false statement being read in Parliament."

The issue was first raised by Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, who sought an explanation from the Minister in Parliament.

Mr Kenyatta’s statement on Tuesday defended the Treasury, and questioned Mr Imanyara’s motive in querying the estimates. He also castigated Mars Group – a governance lobby group that had unearthed the scandal.

However, the activists maintain that the Sh9.6 billion figure which is in 200 budget line items were deliberately tucked away from Parliament’s scrutiny when it was asked to approve a Sh26.7 billion Supplementary Budget.

"There are over 200 such budget line items involved across 35 Ministries and the total figure in dispute is just over Sh9.6b which was removed from the Approved Estimates for unknown reasons," they said in their letter to the House committees.

Some of the grey-area budget lines include; personal allowance paid as part of salary, training expenses, hospitality supplies and services, domestic travel and subsistence and other transport costs as well as office and general supplies and services.

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Others are research, feasibility studies, project preparation and design, project supervision, purchase of office furniture, routine maintenance, printing, advertising and information supplies and services, communication, supplies and services, utilities supplies & services, office and general supplies and services and fuel oil and lubricants.

"These are the same budget lines that generally have caused public concern as the economic situation in Kenya deteriorated."

The Partnership for Change (P4C) has now submitted a raft of recommendations which include a forensic audit of the Budget for 2008/09.

"The Forensic Audit should be conducted independently of Treasury.  Perhaps the audit could be commissioned by these two committees and an expert Panel of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya," their letter states.

They also recommend that only urgent critical and priority spending should be passed during the next phase of supplementary appropriation – the rest should await the National Budget of June 2009.

As a means to avoid such incidences in the future, P4C is also calling for the Fiscal Management Bill to be assented to.

"This will reduce the monopoly over budgeting currently held by Treasury, which has caused this costly exercise."

"Were this anywhere else in the world, we are sure that Treasury buildings resignations would be in order," the letter concludes.

The Parliamentary committees are expected to table their findings before the House on Tuesday.

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