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Crazy county budgets: Why didn’t media probe?

A politician donates Sh10 million to a church in Matayos in Busia County after making similar donations to other churches in the previous three weeks. A TV station covers the event live. It is in the news on radio and newspapers. The politician tells the congregation that, according to the Bible, cows eat grass. They ululate. The pastor in charge tells the politician his generosity reminds him of Jesus Christ, who went about doing good. More ululations. That too is covered by the media.

Two days later, another politician calls a press conference accompanied by a gaggle of overfed MPs and MCAs. Frothing at the mouth and drowning in his sweat, Mheshimiwa bangs the table with his fist, sending microphones flying.

“We have been told that cows eat grass. That is a lie. Somebody is maliciously misleading this nation. No! Cows don’t eat grass. If they did, the milk would be green,” the politician says.

The story is splashed on news websites almost immediately. Radios play the clip on the politician’s declaration on the hour. The story is carried on TV in the evening news. It is there on newspapers the following day.

What cows eat becomes a national discussion.

“Ushenzi!”, Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli declares. He asks President Uhuru Kenyatta to form a commission of inquiry to establish once and for all whether or not cows eat grass.

ODM leader Raila Odinga says the matter calls for a referendum. Kenyans should not be divided over what cows eat, he says.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i warns that what cows eat is a national security issue and should not be politicised.

President Kenyatta urges politicians to focus on development and avoid issues that can raise political temperatures. “Cows can eat what they want. Mnataka nifanye nini? Our focus is on the Big Four Agenda and cows are not relevant to the building of a prosperous and united Kenya,” he says.

Churches organise a national day of prayer to plead with God to reveal to Kenyans what cows eat.

Western envoys issue a statement urging politicians not to ruin the peace that the country has enjoyed over the past year. “Kenya is a great nation. We are friends of Kenya and urge that any political disputes be resolved amicably,” they say.

Hours after the envoys’ statement, the US and Britain issue travel advisories to their citizens, warning about political uncertainty in Kenya.

All this could have been avoided if an enterprising reporter filed a story that her investigations had established that cows actually eat grass. Why they produce white milk is how God intended it.

Why can’t the news media independently verify claims made by politicians and other big people before publishing them? Why simply reproduce what these people say, causing national confusion and raising political temperatures that threaten the peace?

For a whole week, a story ran that Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu aka Baba Yao was on the spotlight after the Senate County Public Accounts and Investment Committee accused him of crazy spending running to billions of shillings.

He allegedly used public money on coordination of State House functions, free primary education, administration of benefits for retired presidents and peace in South Sudan among other expenditures that have nothing to do with county governments.

The media splashed these revelations – and, expectedly, public anger rose.

But then other news revealed that many other counties had similar weird expenditures.

The governors were upset. The Council of Governors held a consultative meeting and issued a statement saying the expenditures mentioned were not in their budgets.

Who approved the weird expenditures? Did the Controller of Budget allow the allocations? And how could Treasury release the money?

None of these questions bothered reporters and editors. Too many questions could ruin a good story.

“Governors blast Rotich over errors”, screamed the Standard headline on May 8. The blurb read: “Governors blame Treasury for Sh10 billion which was irregularly approved and supposedly spent by counties on suspect items like South Sudan peace process, State House affairs and Free primary education.”

If there was any misuse of public funds in the counties as alleged, how could all the oversight institutions not see the mess?

On May 8, the Nation ran an online story titled, “Treasury vindicates Ferdinand Waititu over budget mix-up.”

“The National Treasury has vindicated Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu on the ‘abnormal expenditures’ in the county,” the story said.

“There might have been a mix-up in budget, revenue and expenditure reporting, Treasury said on Monday. In a statement, Treasury indicated that the problem was not only in Kiambu but in several other counties as well.”

Counties failed to use the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) correctly as required by law, hence the audit confusion, Treasury said.

Oh, well.

But the media already ran with the story that Baba Yao and other governors had misused public money without any attempt to find out the truth.

Why can’t the media ask crucial questions about what politicians say or official information released to the public?

For a week, the entire nation was misled. And Senate County Public Accounts and Investments Committee chairman Moses Kajwang has not been heard from.

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