It is quite alarming that the counties have accumulated bills estimated at more than Sh100 billion.
That debt portfolio is distressing. It means counties cannot operate. Every cash disbursement will have to go to debt repayment, leaving no money for normal operations, let alone capital development.
We, therefore, back the move by the National Treasury to commission the Auditor-General to conduct an audit to determine the veracity of the claims.
Without prejudicing the investigations, the clear indications are that the counties are in serious financial crises.
The common narrative from the counties is that they are starved of cash by the Treasury, which is a legitimate concern. Often, the cash is disbursed late and in insufficient amounts such that, at any given time, they are running deficits.
But that is one side of the story.
Counties have become notorious for profligate expenditures.
County officials, including ward representatives, are constantly travelling for workshops, training, conferences and exposure visits, which do not add any value but only create loopholes for siphoning out money in allowances and logistics. General operational costs are excessive.
But the worst are procurements, which are pure conduits for deals.
Contracts are often awarded to cronies and proxies of county officials and payment made without delivery.
Projects are never planned, hence poorly executed. Huge sums of money are lost through such devious dealings.
Things get worse during transition, where projects started by previous officials are abandoned by the new teams.
All those tie down a lot of money.
Experience has demonstrated that most pending bills in public offices are either exaggerated or cooked up.
Such bills provide the cover for stealing from the public, hence the imperative to deeply investigate their validity.
Looking at the debt burden, the underlying message is that counties are failing, which is quite appalling.
If there is any institution in which the citizens are hopeful, it is the counties. They represent the interest of the people because they are run by individuals directly elected by the locals.
Ward reps and governors are locals who understand the interests of grassroots people.
Hence, they should be driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of the people and not the other way round. They should protect and properly deploy resources disbursed to the counties. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
But even as we back the audit, the government should promptly pay those bills found to be genuine and discourage counties from over-borrowing.
And we hope the audit is not a delaying tactic.