Woes of budget watchdog shine light on Ruto regime’s graft war

Saturday December 09 2023

Kenya's Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang'o. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG


The dramatic arrest last Monday of the head of Kenya’s budget watchdog has raised concerns about the William Ruto administration’s commitment to austerity and the fight against corruption.

Detectives from the country’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) arrested Margaret Nyakang’o in Nairobi on her way home from playing golf with her husband and drove her overnight to Mombasa, 441 kilometres away, to appear before a magistrate in the coastal city the next day.

The offences, including fraud, relate to a complaint lodged by a depositor in a savings and credit union she was associated with before her appointment as Controller of Budget in 2019.

She has denied the charges, and the High Court has temporarily suspended her prosecution until May 2024, following a petition by an MP.

Read: Why Kenyans mistrust their courts

In a personal statement recounting her ordeal at the hands of the police, Nyakang’o wondered why she was being targeted for prosecution, citing the absence of nine other people named as her co-accused.



But the opposition has linked the Controller of Budget’s woes to a State conspiracy to force her out of office due to her outspokenness on graft and wasteful spending in government.

Last month, she drew the ire of the Ruto administration with her remarks about ‘budgeted corruption’, saying the Treasury was, for example, inflating the salary budgets for senior government officials.

Making a presentation before a bipartisan talks committee set up by President Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to hear public views on governance reforms, she cited her own annual salary, which appears as three times what she receives in Treasury’s records.

She was not the first holder of a key public accountability office to publicly talk about ‘budgeted corruption’ in Kenya, with former Auditor-General Edward Ouko having also spoken of the practice through which the budget is inflated by monies that are earmarked to be stolen four years ago.

“From where I sit, I would bring in the theory of budgeted corruption… Is our budget actually loaded with corruption? It fits the theory of a highway which has many exit lanes, and corrupt individuals know how to manipulate these exit lanes,” Ouko said during the launch of a report entitled ‘State Capture: Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption’ by Africa Centre for Open Governance (Africog).

The Controller of Budget’s office was established under Kenya’s progressive 2010 Constitution to oversee the implementation of the budgets of the national and county governments by monitoring and approving withdrawals from public funds.

Read: Ruto criticises judges for postponing graft cases

The holder of the office enjoys security tenure, meaning he or she is protected from arbitrary removal during the eight-year term.


But Nyakang’o’s prosecution leaves her vulnerable to a petition to Parliament, setting the stage for the president to suspend her and appoint a tribunal to investigate her. President Ruto was last year seen to use to the tribunal process to oust four electoral commissioners who questioned the validity of the results used to declare him the winner of the 2022 election.

Nyakang’o, a chartered accountant, is the second holder of the office of the Controller of Budget since it became operational in August 2011.

The first half of her tenure has been marked by a cold relationship with the Executive owing to the damning reports about the government’s wasteful spending she regularly submits to Parliament.

Some of the reports consistently exposing lavish spending on foreign travel by senior officials, including President Ruto, have earned her few friends in government.

Going by the ruthless manner the Ruto administration went after the electoral commissioners, the Controller of Budget’s days in office may be numbered.