Deputy auditor-general who backed strong citizen voice


David Gichana, the former deputy Auditor-General who died on March 3. FILE PHOTO | NMG

David Gichana harboured a dream of succeeding former Auditor-General Edward Ouko whom he had deputised for five and a half years.

He was among 17 people shortlisted for the post. But the interviewing panel failed to submit the name of a nominee to President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying none of the applicants qualified for the job. The applicants included fellow deputy auditors-general William Agunda, Edwin Kamar and Sylvester Kiini.

Mr Gichana, however, died before the Employment and Labour Relations Court could rule on a lawsuit challenging the panel’s decision, ending his dream of ascending to the top post.

Mr Ouko, whose term expired in August 2019, had five deputies. But it is the outgoing Mr Gichana who stood out in public — becoming the “spokesman” of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG).

He would represent his boss at international and local forums.

Tellingly it was Mr Gichana who was tasked with heading a team that established and formulated a citizen engagement framework for the OAG. The team concluded its work in July 2019.

He became a champion of e-citizen accountability audits where Kenyans would actively monitor implementation of public projects.

“The future of the audit practice is an end-to-end process where the people witness benefits made on investments made using public resources. This means project requisition based on a problem-based approach where a project is costed and money set aside for its implementation,” he said on a TV talk show last year.

“Such information is then made available on the portal where feedback from villagers on the said area then monitor the project’s implementation and encase of substandard material being delivered, a complaint is made and the situation corrected thereby ensuring people get value for their monies.”

Mr Gichana was also a spirited advocate of mandatory digitisation of government revenue offices at all levels, saying that would solve pilferage issues dogging key departments.

“Digital systems are a must if we are to enhance accountability in revenue collection at national and county levels. Payments for goods and services in public bodies must also be conducted online with the information made available to all,” he told participants at a forum organised by the National Tax Association (NTA).

“We must make systems speak to one another or else we create loopholes for unscrupulous individuals to divert taxpayers’ money to their own use.”

He cited the example of Makueni County’s online portal which he said had allowed citizens direct access to all the information available for any public projects within their locations.

“A public portal must be authentic and regularly updated thereby empowering members of the public to play their oversight role in real-time,” he said.

Mr Gichana’s push for accountability in public budgets won him praise in civil society circles.

Amnesty International Executive director Houghton Irungu paid tribute to Mr Gichana, describing him as honest, patriotic and “the OAG that Kenya never had.”

@KResearcher described Mr Gichana as one of the most open government officials you would ever meet. “He was leading the process of getting citizens to participate in public audits in Kenya.”

Mr Gichana’s dream was to have one platform available to all Kenyans, regardless of their stature, dispatching public information.

“Our task is to have a framework that puts our common agenda together and sets the way forward where technology facilitates harnessing public opinion from across the country and enables us to give feedback.

“The impact on public resources use will be better monitored, implemented and evaluated for better results by the people themselves. It is a long-term engagement that shifts from the usual monetary figures to performance-based audits,” he said.

He said all public projects must also include input from experts on various fronts thereby helping enrich the final product for better service delivery.

For applicants eyeing the Auditor-General’s position, one had to have at least 10 years’ experience in auditing or public finance, and be a finance, accounting or economics degree holder.

The position remains vacant due to a lacuna in the Constitution that doesn’t provider for an acting Auditor-General in case of death, incapacitation or expiry of the term of the substantiveoffice holder.

Mr Gichana openly spoke his mind on shortcomings detected in public offices such as non-compliance with accounting practices and unaccounted for or unsupported expenditures.

He vouched for collaborations and partnerships, saying this was key to enhancing accountability in public offices where holders know all information is available at the touch of a button.

This, he observed, would have prevented loss of public funds at Galana Kulalu irrigation fields and in the dams’ scandal, for example.

Unfortunately, he took the final bow on March before this was actualised.