Start scrutinising elections spending

National Super Alliance (NASA) supporters in a past political rally. file photo | nmg
National Super Alliance (NASA) supporters in a past political rally. file photo | nmg 

We are this time around going to spend a whopping Sh50 billion on general elections.

The details are contained in a new document titled Pre -election economic and fiscal report 2017 recently published by the National Treasury.

Under the Public Financial Management Act, 2012, the National Treasury must publish this document before every elections.

This document not only tells you how much will be spent on elections, but also spells out the broad macro- economic context in which the elections are being held.

But the Principal Secretary for the National Treasury, Dr Kamau Thugge, the signatory the document, says that the actual money spent will only be known after the elections, implying that the budget could go through the roof.

Does Kenya spend more on elections than its peers? A comprehensive comparison of actual expenditures is beyond the scope of this article.

What is clear, however, is that election budgets in Kenya tend to be artificially over-inflated by expenditure on so-called ‘security-related expenses.’

And when this happens, it becomes difficult to achieve transparency especially because capital expenditures by security departments such the Department of Defence and the National Intelligence Service are usually not subject to audit.

Indeed the lesson from experience in this country is that election spending is the loophole rent-seeking elites exploit to sneak in questionable spending decisions through the back door.

This is especially the case because most of what is spent on elections is done in the period when Parliament is not sitting. In the coming weeks, it should not surprise if we start seeing last-minute purchase of goods and services and the hurried signing of contracts that have been pending for months.

It should not surprise if you see pending bills and court awards against the government which have been outstanding for months being paid all in the name of election spending.

Compounding problems is the fact that we are poor at interrogating budgets. Worse still, we practise antiquated financial management systems which will not flag for you a questionable expenditure the moment it happens.

Instead of applying the more modern and transparent accrual-based accounting system, government accounting is still based on a cash-based system that does not observe double entry booking.

What trends do you observe as you look at the budget for this year’s elections?

First, the biggest chunk of the elections budget allocation of Sh42 billion or 84 per cent of total budget, will be consumed by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

But the single largest budget allocation for ‘security-related expenses’- an allocation of Sh7.6 billion, will go to the State Department of the Interior. The explanation is this money will be used in enhancing security operations in Lamu, Mandera and Wajir during the elections.

Yet another large allocation security-related expenses is an allocation of Sh3 billion to the Department of Defence. The explanation given is DOD will require to enhance security operations along the country’s borders in Lamu, Mandera and Wajir during the elections.

National Intelligence Service has an allocation of Sh1.1 billion from the elections budget to fund operations in Lamu , Mandera and Wajir.

Yet in the name of security, the budgets of the DoD and the NSIS are today one-line items with very little detail on specific expenditure.

This is not to say that I do not appreciate the importance of keeping our security matters secret. Of course, it is unwise to tell the public and the rest of the world the number of guns we want to buy in a year.

But the basic minimum rule should be that any institution which spends taxpayers’ money must be made accountable to a body which represents the taxpayer’s interests.

May be we should consider introducing a special committee of Parliament operating behind closed doors.