Uhuru office foreign trip costs up 10 times during flights ban


President Uhuru Kenyatta. PHOTO | PSCU

The office of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, increased its foreign travel costs 10 times in the three months to June when Kenya had banned air travel to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Data from the Controller of Budget (CoB) shows the Presidency spent Sh63.6 million on foreign trips in the quarter, up from Sh6 million in the same period a year earlier.

The cost of overseas trips, which often involve lavish travel allowances, was expected to fall sharply in the quarter after Kenya suspended international flights on March 25.

The Presidency did not make public foreign trips taken by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto during the lockdown period when restricted chartered flights were available for the rich and top State officials.

International travel resumed from August 1 following the phased reopening of the country from a Covid-19 lockdown.

The Controller of Budget did not provide details of the increased foreign travel spending in Presidency, only making a general comment on how the lockdown had disrupted overseas trips.

“Given the disruptions occasioned by the actions taken by the government to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that the measures have impacted on all sectors of the economy,” CoB Margaret Nyakango says in the report.

“In addition, it affected MDAs (ministries departments and agencies) planned activities resulting in low expenditure of some budget items. These included travelling, both domestic and foreign.”

State House did not publicise any foreign trip made by the President or his deputy in the three months to June, making it difficult to identify the drivers of the tenfold jump in the Presidency’s overseas travel expenditure.

Most international meetings and bilateral talks that previously have seen President Kenyatta and large delegations, including Cabinet Secretaries, attend were also cancelled or held through teleconferencing.

Among those cancelled was the 21st East African Heads of State summit that was slated for April while the African Union opted for a teleconference to review the continent’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic also derailed Mr Kenyatta’s four-day trip to Vatican where he was set to meet Pope Francis in March.

The Presidency spent Sh247.8 million on foreign trips in the year to June, reflecting a 26 per cent rise from Sh196.6 million in the same period previously.

President Kenyatta travelled to Paris Wednesday where he met his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, for bilateral talks.

It is the President’s first publicised foreign trip since the coronavirus outbreak in March, with his jet-setting ways having attracted criticism in the past.

Since he came to power in 2013, Mr Kenyatta has pushed for austerity measures across the board, promising deeper cuts on non-essential items like travel and entertainment.

The Treasury has singled out overseas trips by State officials as examples of wasteful spending. All non-core expenditure, it says, will be reviewed to ensure the government can make savings and fund its programmes without relying too much on debt.

But mnisters have consistently defied the Treasury order for budget cuts on non-essential items like travel, publicity and entertainment.

State House has in the past been forced to defend Mr Kenyatta’s frequent trips abroad, arguing that most of them had potential to attract investments.