Editorials

Neglecting foreign mission properties unacceptable

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Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The government’s shift to buying properties in foreign missions instead of renting sounds well-reasoned in the face of substantial and rising lease costs.
  • Kenya is spending Sh3 billion annually to rent space for its diplomats, a figure that will keep rising over the years.
  • The purchase plan, however, needs to be part of a comprehensive and consistent long-term strategy that will enable the country to fund its diplomatic operations at a reasonable cost.

The government’s shift to buying properties in foreign missions instead of renting sounds well-reasoned in the face of substantial and rising lease costs. Kenya is spending Sh3 billion annually to rent space for its diplomats, a figure that will keep rising over the years.

The purchase plan, however, needs to be part of a comprehensive and consistent long-term strategy that will enable the country to fund its diplomatic operations at a reasonable cost.

The London mission is a case in point. Kenya has earmarked Sh1 billion for purchase of a new property in the United Kingdom’s capital.

It will replace the current embassy whose dilapidated condition has seen taxpayers lease space to run the diplomatic missions in the UK.

The proposed transaction begs a few questions.

Why was the maintenance of the current property neglected to the point that it was not fit for use? Did the government consider renovating the property?

It does not make sense to spend large sums of money to acquire a property and neglect it only to rent or make yet another purchase.

The government should map out its most critical diplomatic missions, which tend to be in Western and Asian capitals with high rental charges, and seek to renovate or buy new properties there.

The buildings and residences can be at some distance from the central business district to reduce the cost of acquiring the property.

Admittedly, there needs to be close co-ordination between the Executive and Parliament to pull off this strategy.

Parliament has been accused of thwarting the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making it difficult to pursue a sensible long-term property strategy for the missions.

Lawmakers last year, for instance, denied the ministry Sh250 million meant for renovation of the ageing chancery in New York and the High Commission in London, forcing the ministry to keep renting space.

Unless Parliament buys into a well-articulated property strategy by the Executive, the country will keep losing money in escalating rents and unused properties.