MPs increase foreign travel spend 14 times

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

MPs’ spending on foreign trips hit a historic high in the three months to June, highlighting their renewed appetite for overseas tours following the easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Data from the Controller of Budget shows that Members of the National Assembly and Senators splashed Sh703.1 million on foreign trips in the three months — the highest quarterly spend since Kenya started making public travel spend in 2013.

The spending on flight tickets, accommodation and allowances rose 1,309.8 percent or 14 times from the Sh49.87 million lawmakers spent on foreign trips in the quarter to March.

Foreign travel by senior government officials has recently sparked uproar among Kenyans who feel the expenses have not resulted in corresponding socio-economic benefits.

Kenya restricted international travel for five months to August last year and imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of Covid-19, which cut government officials’ overseas trips.

MPs have used local travel and overseas trips — which often involve lavish travel allowances— to boost their pay, making them among the best paid lawmakers in the world. This huge cash appetite has portrayed them as greedy in a country struggling with biting unemployment and poverty, prompting calls for cuts on non-essential expenditures like foreign travel

“To manage the rising public debt, the Controller of Budget recommends that the government continue rationalising expenditures on recurrent activities, especially foreign travel,” Margaret Nyakango, the Controller of Budget, says in the report.

Ticket, allowance and accommodation costs vary depending on the carrier and the destination, with Singapore and the US attracting the highest payments.

A circular from the Parliamentary Service Commission shows that lawmakers from both the Senate and the National Assembly earn Sh143,493 ($1,296) per diem a night in Singapore— making the Asian nation the most lucrative in allowances.

Lawmakers earn Sh132,421 ($1,196) in per diem on trips to the US, followed by London where they get Sh122,677 ($1,108) per night and Sh122,013 ($1,102) in Swiss cities that include Geneva.

Trips to Dubai, another popular destination for training and benchmarking trips for MPs, earn lawmakers Sh98,430 ($889) in per diem.

In March, MPs drawn from the Finance, Budget, Public Investments, Public Accounts and Special Fund committees travelled to Dubai for a Master class on financial management, prompting public outcry at a time the country was struggling to raise funds to fight the pandemic.

Kenyans questioned why the training was not held via web-based platforms to save money given that taxpayers were grappling with reduced earnings due to layoffs and salary cuts in the wake of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The spending craze on foreign trips in the three months to June came amid claims that lawmakers were in a rush to exhaust the budgetary allocations on foreign trips in the year.

Funds that are not spent by the end of the financial year are supposed to be returned to the Exchequer.

The historic-high spending on foreign trips came despite the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani saying non-core travel for State officials remained suspended.

The Treasury has flagged foreign trips by top State officials as an example of wastage of public funds due to the huge delegations and high per diems.

It has struggled to cut non-core expenditure in the race to make savings and fund its programmes without relying too much on debt.

Critics have accused President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government of ramping up borrowing at a rate that will saddle future generations with too much debt. The government has defended the borrowing, saying it is required to fund infrastructure.

The spending spree in the three months to June pushed MPs’ foreign trips expenses to Sh823.78 million in the year to June, a 630.3 percent jump from Sh112.8 million earned last year.

The other top spenders on foreign travel in the three months to June were the Parliamentary Service Commission at Sh286.78 million, followed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Sh231.57 million and the Treasury at Sh11.45 million.

Overall, taxpayers spent Sh1.52 billion on foreign travel for State officials in the three months ended June, with lawmakers accounting for 46.3 percent of the expenditure.