The extent of public funds misuse by devolved governments was once again laid bare with the release of a report showing continued rise in the amount of money Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) earn in sitting allowances.
The report prepared by the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo shows that Uasin Gishu MCAs led the allowances gravy train, having earned an average of Sh312,339 each in the first half of the current fiscal year ending June 31.
The county has 45 MCAs. At Sh312,339, an MCA in Uasin Gishu took home 10 times more than his or her counterpart in the more frugal counties such Kajiado where average earnings stood at Sh30,725 for the 42 MCAs and nearly three times the Sh124,800 ceiling fixed by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
Uasin Gishu was also the top allowances paying assembly in the 2013/14 fiscal year when its MCAs earned Sh235, 743 per month each.
Vihiga MCAs earned an average of Sh12,225 per month each in sitting allowances in the six-month period, making it the lowest paying county government. The report says that on average, each of Kenya’s 2,259 MCAs pocketed Sh106,371 in sitting allowances in the period under review – surpassing the Sh100,000 mark for the first time. The average monthly payout stood at Sh88,044 in the last fiscal year.
Ms Odhiambo has consistently warned that meeting allowances are taking a huge chunk of county government revenues and wants the budget line reassessed.
“The Office of the Controller of Budget recommends that an audit of this expense be conducted to ascertain validity of the expenditure,” says Ms Odhiambo in the report.
Overall, the 47 devolved units blew Sh1.4 billion on meeting allowances.
Besides, the county representatives spent Sh1.6 billion on foreign and domestic travel or nearly half the Sh3.7 billion they spent travelling in the last fiscal year.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission has issued guidelines indicating that MCAs should not earn more than Sh124,000 a month in sitting allowances — a directive that 12 counties breached, up from seven in the last financial year.
The list of counties that breached the set limit includes Uasin Gishu, Kakamega (Sh134,700), Kirinyaga (Sh141,894), Kisii (Sh148,699), Migori (Sh185,792), Nyandarua (Sh138,975) and Nyeri (Sh146,389).
Others are Siaya (Sh142,995), Taita Taveta (Sh124,598), Trans Nzoia (Sh178,168), Turkana (Sh143,722) and Wajir (Sh126,958).
The report shows that the number of counties whose sitting allowance payouts exceeded the budgetary allocation dropped to one from six in the last financial year.
Only the Turkana county assembly was affected, having spent Sh41.39 million on sitting allowances and exceeded its annual budget allocation of Sh10 million by a whopping 413.9 per cent.
“This implies that funds meant for other activities were diverted to pay MCAs’ sitting allowances,” says Ms Odhiambo.
Many Kenyans view elected representatives, including MPs, as greedy individuals who seek public office for personal gain in a country that is beset with high levels of poverty and an unemployment rate of about 40 per cent.
Despite the heavy perks, the representatives have continued to push for higher pay, including mortgage, car grants, ward offices and a budget for hiring aides like drivers, bodyguards and secretaries.
The Controller of Budget has also cast the spotlight on counties that spent a high proportion of their annual budgets on MCAs sitting perks. The list includes Elgeyo Marakwet (96.8 per cent), Mombasa (78.1 per cent) and Kisii (73 per cent).
In real terms, Nairobi spent the most cash on sitting allowances at Sh89.23 million for its 128 members, but each took a smaller pay of Sh116,186, which nevertheless grew from Sh96,871 last fiscal year.
Isiolo did not, however, spend a penny on MCAs’ sitting allowances, the report shows.
Besides Vihiga, the other low spenders were Kajiado (Sh30, 725), Nandi (Sh32, 623) and Baringo (Sh32, 842).
The rise in MCAs’ allowances comes at a time when MPs are enjoying heavy perks, which are expected to cost the taxpayer more than Sh4 billion in the current financial year.
MPs are entitled to a tax-free car grant, mileage allowances, pension and unlimited committee sessions.
Though each of the 416 Members of the National Assembly and Senate earn a basic monthly salary of Sh532,500, the allowances push their monthly take-home to more than Sh1 million.
The lawmakers have argued that they deserve higher salaries because their constituents expect them to provide charitable support. MPs earn the additional income by holding as many committee sessions as they deem necessary.
The lawmakers were also granted a top-up of Sh135, 255 per month for a contributory pension scheme calculated at 31 per cent of their basic salary that is not taxed.
Each legislator also has a Sh5 million car grant that is 50 per cent higher than the 10th Parliament’s Sh3.3 million. Kenyan legislators are paid mileage claims at the rate of Sh109 per kilometre for up to 750 kilometres a week.
Additional travel distance is compensated at the rate of 70 per cent or Sh76.30 per kilometre as approved by the Automobile Association of Kenya. This gives the MPs an opportunity to earn additional Sh327,000 in monthly travel allowances.