Governors, MCAs burn Sh13 billion on travel in 9 months
Governors and MCAs spent up to 12.5 billion on domestic and foreign travel after the government lifted the ban on movement prompted by Covid-19 in July last year, a new report by the Controller of Budget (CoB) shows.
The report on the status of budget implementation by county governments in the first nine months of the 2020/2021 financial year reveals that county executives and assemblies engaged in a spending spree immediately President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the inter-county cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera on July 7, last year.
Uhuru also lifted the ban on local and foreign travel effective July 15 for the former and August 1, 2020 for the latter.
Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o states that governors and MCAs took advantage of the President’s move to embark on numerous local and foreign travels that did not add value to the welfare of residents.
“Despite the protocols to contain the spread of Covid-19 disease, the office of the Controller of Budget has noted high expenditure on local travel and subsistence,” Nyakang’o says.
The trips ended up gobbling up Sh10.9 billion in domestic travel and Sh2.5 billion on overseas trips.
The report, covering the period from July 2020 to March 2021, casts the spotlight on ballooning appetite for public resources by county executives and county assemblies despite persistent calls for austerity measures.
The CoB states that the high expenditure on local travel and subsistence, which was unexpected during the pandemic period, points to wasteful spending.
“In order to contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease, the national government developed guidelines that restricted the movement of persons and promoted the use of virtual meetings and working from home for non-critical government services,” Nyakang’o notes in her report released on May 30, 2021.
“This implied that government officers were limited in the number of activities they could undertake, requiring physical meetings such as workshops and seminars.”
Among counties the CoB accuses of spending millions of shillings in wasteful travel are Kajiado (Sh333.14 million), Siaya (Sh332.55 million), Bungoma (Sh313.15 million), Tana River (Sh303.04 million), Nairobi City (Sh297.97 million), Machakos (Sh283.40 million) and Meru (Sh264.09 million). Others are Kitui (Sh249.63 million), Kiambu (Sh245.10 million), Kisii (Sh213.69 million) and Nyeri (202.23 million).
Citing Bungoma county, headed by Governor Wycliffe Wangamati, Nyakang’o says: “The high expenditure on local travel at Sh313 million which was unexpected during the Covid-19 containment period due to travel restrictions points to wasteful spending.”
Reports of this wanton spending on “wasteful” ventures will come as a shock to Kenyans given that the Council of Governors (CoG) has repeatedly accused the National Treasury of delaying cash disbursements thus stalling their operations.
On several occasions, governors threatened to shut down the counties for lack of funds owing to delays in disbursement.
Apparently disturbed by the extravagant expenditure, Nyakang’o recommended that county treasuries review their spend on travel and subsistence allowances to ensure the cost is credible and also institute control measures to curtail this expenditure to avoid wastefulness.
She also advised county treasuries to institute any other control measures to curtail unjustified expenditure.
“Article 201 of the Constitution requires that public money shall be used in a prudent and responsible way,” Nyakang’o says in the report that is likely to cause an uproar from Kenyans hard hit by Covid-19 economic shocks.
Further, spending on non-core activities, such as travelling, should be rationalised to free funds for implementation of essential development programmes, she advises.
The County Assemblies, however, reported a decrease in expenditure on sitting allowance from Sh1.62 billion during a similar period in the previous financial year to Sh1.49 billion in the period under review.
However, the county Assemblies of Laikipia and Homa Bay reported the highest average monthly sitting allowance per MCA at Sh192,470 and Sh183,443, respectively, way above the recommended monthly ceiling of Sh124,800 established by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
West Pokot county Assembly did not report any expenditure on MCAs sitting allowance during the reporting period.
Analysis of personnel emoluments for the first nine months as a proportion of income received by counties shows that 18 devolved units exceeded the allowable limit of 35 per cent.
Regulation 25 (1) (b) of the Public Finance Management (County Governments) Regulations, 2015, sets a limit of the county governments’ expenditure on wages and benefits at 35 per cent of the county’s total revenue.