Principal secretaries and chief executives of State corporations are now required to seek permission from relevant Cabinet secretaries and a formal approval by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s chief of staff Joseph Kinyua to travel abroad.
Mr Kinyua issued the directive last November as part of the effort to effect austerity measures the government put in place to curb the runaway public sector wage bill.
“In instances where principal secretaries and chief executive officers are required to travel for duty outside the country, they will be cleared by their respective cabinet secretaries before seeking formal clearance by the chief of staff and head of public service,” Mr Kinyua said in the circular, which dealt with wide ranging operation issues in the public sector.
The statement also referred to a circular previously issued regarding the size of delegation that could accompany heads of departments and agencies on foreign travel.
The Treasury has previously made attempts to rein in spending on foreign travel, including through a directive Treasury secretary Henry Rotich issued to all accounting officers on air travel.
The December 2013 circular issued by Mr Rotich barred most government officers from flying business class while on official trips locally to cut spending on air transport.
Business class travel was reserved for Cabinet and principal secretaries and parastatal heads. “All air travel by public officers should also be by the national carrier, Kenya Airways, except where the airline does not fly the route or has no partnership with any other airline on that route,” said Mr Rotich in the letter.
Delegations led by Cabinet secretaries are limited to five officials while those led by principal secretaries, chief executives, directors and commissioners of boards and commissions would be limited to only three.
Any exceptions to the size of the delegation is subject to approval by the chief of staff and head of public service.
Mr Rotich also stopped ministries from holding meetings in private hotels to reduce the government’s hospitality budget, instructing that they be held in government institutions with catering facilities.
He directed that all international meetings, workshops, seminars and study tours be reassessed to ensure that only those that have direct benefits to the public were approved and also banned holding of breakfast meetings in hotels.
The order discouraged instances where officers arranged domestic travel and accommodation from one town to another to discuss strategy documents, reports and assignments that would ordinarily be done in public offices.
“Accounting officers should exercise utmost fiscal discipline in this area to ensure control of costs likely to arise from the policy directive,” read the letter from Mr Rotich, dated August 2015.
A report by Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo showed that government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) spent Sh4.2 billion on foreign travel, Sh6.6 billion on domestic travel and Sh4.2 billion on hospitality, conferences and catering costs in the 2014/2015 financial period.
The amount increased from Sh3.9 billion for foreign travel, Sh5.4 billion on domestic travel and Sh4 billion on hospitality and catering costs in 2013/2014.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade had the highest expenditure on the foreign travel category at Sh1.6 billion, which accounted for 37.3 per cent of the total spend on the same.
The report showed that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s state visits abroad accounted for more than three-quarters of the Foreign Affairs ministry spent on travel.
Mr Kenyatta’s office and that of Deputy President William Ruto spent Sh2.1 billion on travel and hospitality in the year to June — up 75 per cent compared to a similar period a year earlier.
This included at least 24 trips made in the year to June 2015 by the head of state.
Treasury’s directive to cut travel and hospitality expenditure by up to 30 per cent has been flaunted as overall, the government spend on travel increased to Sh10.8 billion from Sh9.2 billion while hospitality expenditure was up marginally to Sh4.1 billion from Sh3.9 billion, highlighting the impact of the nearly triple growth recorded by the presidency on this item.
Senior Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) executives pocketed Sh307.2 million in tax-free travelling allowances in the year ended June 2015, underlining continued wastage of public funds.
Auditors found that CA spent Sh404.1 million on staff travel comprising per diem, air tickets, training fees and registration fees.
In November, all bench marking and study tours by national and county government officials were suspended.
The State’s push for the travel freeze came amidst speculation that Members of county assembly were manipulating accounting books to channel money into their pockets as some of the tripe remain unaccounted.
The Controller of Budget, said that in the 2014/15 financial year, 14 counties exceeded their annual allocations for domestic and foreign travel.
In the year to June 2015, counties spent Sh9.15 billion on domestic and foreign travel, compared to Sh7.7 billion the previous year.