Securing elusive accountability in Covid-19 budget expenditure

BY NDUNG’U WAINAINA

There is a dire need for establishment of an independent Single Treasury account for all COVID-19 funds and its governing framework to ensure financial transparency, accountability and probity in utilization of the Covid19 funds.

The Single Treasury Account to be managed jointly between the National Treasury, Central Bank of Kenya and Council of Governors should ensure the office of Auditor General has full access and shall publish a daily Treasury Statement for COVID-19 funds outlining all inflows, including its source, and outflows to a properly identified level of government ministry, department and or agency (MDA).

All names of entities whether individuals and or companies, public or private, contracted to provide any COVID-19 goods and services must have all their names published and their respective detailed contracts and all cots paid made public.  

This transparent and open COVID-19 funds management resonates with the fact that a government’s ability to deliver its mandate i.e. strengthen the economy, ameliorate health and living challenges of its citizens, ensure security of lives and property, maintain the rule of law, and sustain social cohesion, depends not just on the resources at its disposal, but more so on how effectively they are utilized.

Issues of emergency management, either in the form of natural disasters or outbreaks, are some of the unforeseen contingencies that government, unfortunately, need to grapple with. Sadly, mitigation efforts, which usually come with the influx of funds, goods and services following such crises, are particularly vulnerable to corruption and have a high chance of mismanagement. Whilst it is not permissible for citizens to tolerate any form of opacity in the spending of public funds, it is even more irremissible to allow any frivolity in the utilization of goodwill, donations and funds particularly those made towards fighting devastating scourge like the current pandemic.

The COVID-19 funds should not be disbursed until after appropriation by the National Parliament. The National Treasury must always liaise with Parliament to pass a supplementary budget or reprioritize budgetary allocation for the utilization of the funds based on estimated total collection for the year. It must detail the needs submitted by the affected MDAs together with estimated costs, as the basis for allocation of funds, to enable post expenditure reporting and audit. All participating government departments must provide information on all COVID-19 fund transactions requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) within seven days of receiving the request. 

The Single Treasury Account framework gives Kenyans a ground to call to question any perceived anomaly in government’s handling of the funds and would set a strong precedence for the management and administration of special funds for disasters going forward.

This framework should bar MDAs from depositing any other funds into the account or any other accounts dedicated to COVID-19. The respective spending MDA units and the accounting officers would take full responsibility for funds appropriated to them and held responsible for ensuring full transparency is enhanced. This would ensure that funds are spread to more MDAs than when a huge amount is put under the control of a single entity operating opaquely. The public is invested in ensuring that the funds are utilized in the most transparent and prudent manner. 

In what would seem to be very clear moves to establish financial probity, the framework should explicitly state that Coviod-19 Single Treasury Account should be linked to public information portal through CBK current payment gateway. This is to provide a consolidated view of aggregate government cash balances as well as a single window for real-time access to details of receipts and disbursement of the funds from the account. 

In the management of the funds, all payments should be effected using the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) for adequate budget management and accounting. All cases, extant laws, rules and regulations, including those relating to the Public Procurement Act shall apply. Where IFMIS is used in reporting, the fund-based budget performance reports shall be generated for each participating MDA using all applicable segments to provide additional level of transparency. While the inflows shall show the source of the funds, the outflow shall indicate the MDA responsible for each payment out of the Fund.

Each participating MDA should then publish a daily payment report indicating the beneficiary, purpose of the payment and the amount for any payment out of the COVID-19 Fund. In addition, each MDA should publish a detailed report of its activities relating to COVID-19 Fund on its website at the end of every week. It is crucial to establish a COVID-19 Monthly Budget Performance Report, which should be published on the COVID-19 public information Portal not later than 14 days following the end of the month. 

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