How Government spent millions on luxury retreat

An aerial view of the main swimming pool of Nanyuki’s Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club from the balcony of the Presidential Suite. [Photo: Mark Kapchanga/Standard]

By Mark Kapchanga

Kenya: The high-profile four-day Government retreat at the exclusive Mt Kenya Safari Club could have cost Kenya more than Sh100 million, The Standard can authoritatively reveal.

Efforts to verify the actual cost of the retreat with Government officials yielded only a terse SMS response from the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.

“Where did you get this crazy figure from? Check with the accounting officer in the Office of the President for correct expenditure,” the SMS said.

And calls to the President’s Spokesman Mr Manoah Espisu by a senior editor of The Standard went unanswered.

But calculations by The Standard, based on actual expenditure incurred by our reporters at the resort after the Government event and interviews of people in the know reveals a different picture. The Ksh100 million figure was derived from costing of the 120 rooms reserved for the government delegation at the resort, fees paid for closing of hotel to other guests, food and accommodation levies, and the cost of plane-hiring and extra services by the hotel.

However the figure could be higher if the allowances the officials are entitled to when they work out of station are factored in.

Taps of wastage

It was at this March 4 retreat that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto announced they would take a 20 per cent pay cut kicking off a national debate on the unsustainability of the public wage bill.

The choice of the venue, the Government has said, was necessitated by security considerations. Nonetheless, such high expenditure to discuss austerity raises questions about prudence in and prioritisation of public spending.

The President and his Cabinet, who alongside Principal Secretaries and parastatal heads have taken salary cuts, has signaled he would like to reduce the wage bill and public expenditure in general reduced to sustainable levels.

Arguments have been presented showing that even before the government forces salary cuts outside top ranks of government, a fact which could hurt workers already grappling with inflationary pressures and rising standards of living, it must first switch off the taps of wastage.

These include areas where public revenue is lost through corruption, an example of which reared its head in the just cancelled Sh24.6 billion laptops tender to India’s Olive International. Apart from sealing channels that allow seepage of public finances through thefts and inflations of project contracts and cost of purchases, the Cabinet may also want to scale down its own luxurious and lofty lifestyles, beginning with conferencing and travel.

Investigations by The Standard unveiled a picture of a Cabinet that talks about inevitability of belt-tightening but seemingly oblivious or negligent to ways public expenditure could be lowered much more easily.

Our first step was at Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club where the President, his deputy, Cabinet members, principal secretaries and their top aides, and retinue of advisors, security and other support staff such as drivers and probably even clerical officers spent four nights. The Standard’s team inquiry began with the notion that the retreat need not have been in such a respected, expensive and World Class destination in moments of hard times.

First, it turned out that the President and his team decided to extend the visit in the hotel by two more days, pushing the cost further up. “It was a rare chance to host the President and his government from Monday to Friday,” said a hotel manager familiar with the pie that comes with such rich bookings.

The Standard exclusively established that the Government had initially booked the hotel for two days from Monday to Wednesday with the rest of the activities slated for transfer to Sagana State Lodge, about 60 kilometres away from the resort.

The President checked into the hotel rated among the World’s Top 50 by New York-based Travel + Leisure Magazine on March 4 to join the lynchpins of his administration and signed the visitors book.

Hospitality analysts and publications have also rated the club as one of the most expensive hotels in Africa.

President Uhuru spent his nights at the executive Equatorial Suite Number 102 that cost Sh51,050 per night. A source at the club told The Standard his deputy Mr William Ruto also stayed in one of the hotel’s classy rooms at a similar cost. Their security and aides are believed to have taken adjacent rooms for protocol and security reasons. Sources familiar with the meeting said ‘senior’ Cabinet Secretaries were booked in at Signature Suite at a cost of Sh42,350 and Manor Junior Suite that cost Sh38,500 per night.

Private club

Other cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries spent the nights in Garden Suite, Mawingu Suite, Raymond Hook Suite, Deluxe View Room, River Deluxe Suites and Deluxe Room that cost between Sh33,688 and Sh25,025 a night.

The retreat saw the country literary run from a private club nestled in the middle of a forest at the foot of Mt Kenya.  

Sources familiar with the cost of bookings in the hotel said the creation of an exclusive venue for the Cabinet that also saw some security and drivers of these leaders housed in the hotel ran to about Sh65 million.

It is not clear if the officials met the cost of entertainment drinks and other extras on offer, such as horse riding, fishing, dog-walking and guided tours, or even if they took them at all. A guide into the billing at the hotel springs out of the fact that Swedish massage is available but costs Sh5,200 an hour. Horse riding costs Sh4,500 for two hours while renting a golf set and the high-end Taylor Made Golf Set go for Sh1,600 and Sh2,500 respectively.

The hotel has hosted World leaders, local Presidents, renown film stars and global personalities, mostly in the premium Equitorial Suite inside of which The Standard established the wide luxury bed lies one-half on the North Hemisphere and other on the South Hemisphere, according the hotel’s global position reading. The hotel boasts among its guests UK Royal Family, late Winston Churchill, Prince Berhard of the Netherlands, Lord Louis Mountbatten, author Robert Ruark, former US President Lyndon Johnson, Conrad Hilton, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

The hotel that sits on 100-acre grounds, surrounded by a forest and a river running in it, owns six helipads and a private chapel with impressive views of Mt Kenya.

A simple lunch goes for Sh3,500 while a 300-millimetre bottle of soda costs Sh195.

With a service charge of Sh541.96, a 16 per cent Value Added Tax of Sh963.49, a two per cent catering level (Sh120.44), a lunch for two at the Mt Kenya Safari Club costs Sh7, 648.

For those who are non-members, they are required to pay a non-refundable fee of Sh800 per person. “The Government had to pay this amount, too, as many of those attending the conference were not members,” a source familiar with the procurement of the services said.

At the hotel, breakfast and lunch is served buffet style. However, the dinner, which is normally served at Tusks Restaurant, is À la Carte, a French language loan phrase meaning “according to the menu”.  A plate, in this case, conservatively costs Sh4,300.

Early this year, Treasury had predicted Kenya’s economy would expand by 5.8 per cent after a dismal 5.1 per cent growth in 2013. However, the economy faces risks due to unprecedented corruption and unfettered spending. This year, the Government spending is projected at Sh1.52 trillion, major portion of which is on recurrent expenditure.

Apart from Sagana State Lodge, Kenya School of Government in Lower Kabete also has conference and boarding facilities regularly used by State officials. It is also the same with State-owned Kenya Multi-Media University, Utalii Hotel, Kenya School of Monetary Studies and Kenyatta International Conference Centre, which however has no boarding facilities.