The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spends Sh1.85 billion per year on rent abroad.
It is part of the money that caters for the houses occupied by more than 350 diplomats’ families in 54 missions.
“The government has not sold any of its properties in the last four years,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said.
Each embassy is required to submit an inventory of movable and immovable properties at the beginning of every financial year.
There have been audit queries on why the ministry continues to pay house rent even after a diplomat is sent home and no one is appointed to replace them immediately.
Leases are terminated
This was evident in one of the Auditor General’s reports that queried why the taxpayer lost Sh8.7 million by July 31, 2014 due to a decision by the embassy in Thailand to continue paying house rent even after the then ambassador had returned to Kenya a year earlier.
The same was noted in Seoul, South Korea, where the government paid Sh2.2 million for a vacant house after an officer returned to Kenya.
“Under normal circumstances, leases are terminated once it has been established that the officer occupying the property is due to return home and no replacement is anticipated. However, a vacant house may be retained when an officer has returned home and the arrival of a replacement is anticipated,” the PS said.
This is cost-effective, especially if the prevailing lease is below market rate, or the cost of house hunting, signing of new lease agreement and making a down payment for a new property is high.
Change of tactic
In the current financial year, the ministry had projected a recurrent expenditure estimate of Sh14.6 billion for salaries and expenses, including general administration and planning, management of foreign policy, diplomatic representation and international organisations.
Former Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka said that apart from Namibia and Tanzania, Kenya has already bought office buildings in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa and Uganda. The Ugandan property was purchased in 2016.
“We should have bought office buildings in some of the countries in the 1970s or 1980s to help cut the expenditure. There needs to be a change of tactic for the government to sell some of the buildings bought in areas perceived to be diplomatic villages, and invest in Central Business Districts in those countries,” he said.
In Mogadishu, where the ministry indicated its rent of produced assets estimates at Sh166 million, Mr Onyonka, who is a member of the Parliamentary Defense and Foreign Relations Committee, said the government is in the process of completing an office building plus the envoy’s residence.
As for Addis Ababa, the government was forced to carry out renovations because the building was rundown.
“We were not able to buy any office or residential building in some of the countries because those who were running the embassies had negotiated rent to get kickbacks. Things have now changed and there is a big progress that will save us from the rent expenditure,” he added.
In Geneva, where the government spends Sh141 million on rent every year, the ministry had made plans to purchase a building to house the ambassador at a cost of Sh1.2 billion.