How 21 State workers earned Sh7.4 million each in per diem


Salaries and Remuneration Commission(SRC) Chairperson Lyn Mengich at the commission's offices in Nairobi on July 1, 2023, during a press briefing. PHOTO | WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

Some 21 government employees in Public Works earned Sh617,285 every month on average in allowances to inspect projects around the country in 2021/22 year, lifting the lid on the cash cow that per diems have become for civil servants.

The Auditor-General has revealed in a report that the 21 employees received Sh155.5 million in total for domestic travel and subsistence.

This translates to each earning Sh7.4 million during the year, or Sh20,294 daily assuming they worked each of the 365 days including weekends and public holidays such as Christmas.

Flagging the issue, Auditor-General, Nancy Gathungu, faults the department charged with improving living and working conditions in government buildings, developing and maintaining coastline infrastructure and pedestrian access.

Public Works also procures common user items for government institutions and regulates and develops the construction industry.

“Review of both development and recurrent cashbooks revealed that Sh155,555,931 was paid during the year to 21 members of staff relating to imprests for domestic travel and subsistence. This clearly shows that officers were in the field for more days than the work schedule can accommodate and possibly more than the working days in a year.

In the circumstances, the propriety and value for money of Sh155,555,931 could not be confirmed,” Ms Gathungu noted.

During the year, the department’s spending on compensation to employees — which constituted basic salaries to permanent employees, basic wages of temporary employees and personal allowances — paid as part of salary totalled Sh807.1 million.

The Sh155.5 million was equivalent to 19.3 percent of the department’s entire ‘compensation to employees’ budget.

Wage bill

The state department fell under the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works in the former administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta where the Cabinet Secretary was James Macharia and Principal Secretary was Solomon Kitungu.

The huge allowances are paid despite an ongoing initiative by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to streamline allowances with the aim of capping them at 40 percent of an employee’s gross salary.

Kenya’s public wage bill has grown by an average of Sh72 billion annually since 2016 to hit Sh1.055 trillion by last year, with allowances coming out as the main avenue through which workers reward themselves.

247 allowances

The SRC in October 2021 issued guidelines to scrap most of the allowances paid in government and set their ratio to basic salaries in the public service at 40:60, after finding out that public entities were paying up to 247 allowances, some workers earning allowances up to 259 percent of basic salary.

In March, SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich, however, indicated that there had been resistance to the programme within the government, which saw the agency make little progress, even as the public service wage bill crossed Sh1 trillion in 2021/22.

“SRC has faced several challenges, such as litigation where some institutions and organisations have taken SRC to court over the proposed reviews even before the issuance of the final advice, thus delaying the process,” Ms Mengich said.

She cited defiance from institutions employing public officers as what was frustrating the SRC’s efforts.

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