As the country grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, public and private sector operations and the lives of wananchi have been disrupted severely. The pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on Kenyans in terms of loss of lives, cost of hospitalisation and/or quarantine, widespread job losses, stagnation of small businesses, decrease in productivity and general uncertainty in the country.
The government is striving to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 through various programmes. For example, Sh10 billion has been set aside for the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable members of society, while Sh100 million will go to artists. In addition, there are funds targeting youth and related groups.
Kenya has received assistance from the World Bank amounting to $50 million (Sh5.3 billion) as immediate funding to support its pandemic response. More funding is being negotiated with the IMF and World Bank. These amounts, running into several billions of shillings, are being appropriated from public coffers, and there is urgent need to ensure that they are prudently spent as per the original intent.
The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (Icpak), urges all public servants and citizens who are responsible for and are charged with implementing the Covid-19 emergency programmes to take personal responsibility for the use of allocated funds. All stakeholders and organisations must ensure that all intervening actions and use of funds are carried out with utmost integrity and transparency to avoid misuse and theft of funds, which would erode public trust.
The country has had numerous incidents of misuse, misappropriation and theft of public funds during implementation of government and donor-funded programmes.
All professionals must strictly adhere to the codes of ethics and accountability frameworks or be ready to face sanction for misappropriation of funds. At Icpak, we have made it clear that all registered members working in the private or public sector must adhere to the institute’s Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. This code lays out the fundamental principles of integrity, professional competence and due care, professional behaviour and avoidance of conflict of interest, among other principles that members must comply with.
As an accountability partner, Icpak fully supports the Office of the Auditor General, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in their duty to ensure that the special funds for Covid-19 are spent in line with the best financial management practices.
All stakeholders and relevant organisations must guarantee the prudent use of public funds, particularly at a time when the country is staring at scarce resources and diminished revenues that have put more pressure on the country’s fiscal outlook.
Critical public finance management and procurement control measures, including protocols to minimise the risks of misuse and theft of public funds must not be circumvented in the name of speed, urgency and emergency measures as has happened in the past.
In the past, dramatic increases in amounts spent have led to breakdowns in financial oversight mechanisms, allowing powerful cartels and shady actors to take advantage of the crises for their own benefit, notwithstanding the negative impact such actions have on the country.
Corruption and theft of public funds drain public resources, harm the government’s ability to provide adequate healthcare, education and other critical social services, and erode public trust. To sustain public trust, the government must disclose to its citizens, on a regular basis, information related to Covid-19 expenditure. This will assuage fears about the misuse of funds.
To mitigate risks such as opaque contracts, overpricing and collusion, the government should commit to, at a minimum, publish all executed contracts; use open and competitive bidding and strictly limit the use of emergency non-competitive processes; publish the names and beneficial ownership information of companies awarded contracts; and empower integrity agencies to monitor procurement of services and goods.
The government should commit to make all information on how Covid-19 funds are spent available to the Office of the Auditor General for audit as soon as practicable. Priority should be given to critical areas such as health, public procurement, infrastructure and social security expenditures.
Accountants and all professionals stand ready to do their part to ensure that public funds are not lost or stolen as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Mwaura is the chairperson of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya