Members of Parliament spent a whopping Sh3 billion on local and foreign travel in the fiscal year ended June, setting a new record for a line of expenditure over which members of the county assemblies (MCAs) have come under intense public pressure in the past couple of months.
Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo says in her latest review of how the national government spent its money in the past financial year that the legislators used Sh2.4 billion for local travel and an additional Sh632.4 million for foreign travel.
The Sh3 billion bill means each of the 349 MPs and 67 Senators cost the taxpayer Sh7.3 million in travelling expenses alone and Parliament consumed up to 32.5 per cent of the government’s Sh9.3 billion transport budget for the year ended June 2014.
Much of the Sh2.4 billion local travel budget is made up of the MPs’ mileage claims for trips made to their constituencies and for which a number of legislators have in the past found themselves in trouble.
“The Parliamentary Service Commission had the highest expenditure in domestic travel at Sh2.4 billion. This expenditure is attributed to the MPs’ mileage reimbursements,” says the report.
Parliament does not make public details of the mileage claims, including how much each MP was paid during a specified reporting period.
MPs are paid mileage claims at the rate of Sh109 per kilometre for up to 750 kilometres a week. Any distance covered beyond this limit is compensated at the rate of 70 per cent of Sh109 or Sh76.30 per kilometre as approved by the Automobile Association of Kenya.
This means an MP could earn up to Sh327,000 a month on travel allowances.
Top beneficiaries of the mileage claims provision are legislators from far-flung corners of the country such as Turkana, Marsabit, Moyale, Mandera and Lamu.
Mrs Odhiambo’s 2013/14 full year report shows that the Interior ministry was the second-largest spender on domestic travel having consumed Sh884.5 million, the Judiciary (Sh377 million), the Presidency (Sh371.4 million), and the Ministry of Devolution (Sh163.7 million).
With a Sh632.4 million foreign travel bill, the MPs accounted for 16.2 per cent of the national government’s Sh3.8 billion total foreign travel bill, placing them only second to the Foreign affairs ministry that spent Sh1.7 billion on trips outside the country.
The MPs’ love for foreign trips has been taken up by their counterparts in the county assemblies who have drawn public anger following reports that they spend more than Sh2 billion on overseas travel in six months.
Mrs Odhiambo has raised the red flag over the emerging profligacy among the members of county assembly (MCAs) who have been making numerous trips to Western and Asian nations ostensibly to benchmark development plans.
Up to 15 countries — including Brazil and Switzerland— have reportedly conveyed their decision to stop future delegations of MCAs from visiting their countries, arguing that the trips are of little benefit to Kenyan taxpayers.
The 47 county governments had set aside up to Sh8.8 billion for foreign travel for the fiscal year ended June but the full cost of the overseas trips will be known when the Controller of Budget publishes the counties’ spending report next week.
Besides the MCAs and the MPs, the other big spenders on foreign trips were the Ministry of Sports and Culture which consumed Sh288.2 million. The spending is linked to the cost of transporting and keeping Kenya’s sportsmen and women to international competitions.
The Ministry of Tourism and East African Affairs spent Sh222.2 million on travel as top officials went on an intense drive to reverse the impact of warnings that a number of Western governments had issued to their citizens against travelling to Kenya.
The Presidency spent Sh187.9 million, reflecting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s aggressive economic and political diplomacy that has seen him make scores of trips to Asian, Arab and African countries.
The spending schedule shows that besides travel expenses, the government continues to spend big on hospitality, conferences, and catering services it promised to scale down in line with an earlier austerity policy.
The Sports ministry topped the spenders in this budget item, consuming Sh808.1 million in the review period, followed by Parliament which spent Sh641.9 million or Sh1.5 million on each of the 416 MPs.
The Presidency was also among the top spenders in this line of budget, forking out Sh670.3 million to host and entertain guests of the State. The national government’s total spending on hospitality stood at Sh3.9 billion.
Under an austerity programme announced earlier in the just ended fiscal year, the government banned ministries and State agencies from holding meetings in private hotels but the directive was lifted to help shore up the hospitality industry, hard hit by a wave of insecurity that led to a sharp drop in foreign visitors.
While catering and other services form a large part of the recurrent expenditure, the budget review shows that civil service pay remains the single-largest consumer of public funds.
Total personnel emoluments in the public sector amounted to Sh268.3 billion or more than half the total recurrent expenditure of Sh493.3 billion.
It remains to be seen whether the government’s move to restructure its workforce in light of devolution will yield significant savings on the public payroll.