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Cabinet travel budget hurts Kenya's struggling economy

Secretary to the Cabinet Mercy Wanjau (right) and Assistant Forest Conservator Nafasi Mfahaya (left)  plant tree seedlings at Bomas of Kenya forest on Monday, November 13, 2023. [Samson Wire. Standard]

In a year marked by unprecedented government spending, critics are pointing fingers at the frequent jet-setting habits of President William Ruto and his Cabinet, expressing concerns about the wasteful use of public resources.

The administration’s practise of holding Cabinet meetings and gatherings in various locations across the country has come under scrutiny.

It involves extensive travel for high-ranking officials and their entourages, all funded by taxpayers’ resources.

This scrutiny intensified when President William Ruto dispatched 22 Cabinet secretaries and the head of public service hundreds of miles apart to plant trees.

When reached for comment, government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura declined, stating, “The interview is not in good faith.” However, Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, who planted trees in Nairobi alongside Secretary Mercy Wanjau, defended the process on his Facebook page.

He said: “Whoever plants trees, plants hope. In pursuit of the government’s goal of growing 15 billion trees by 2032, this morning, I led a tree-growing exercise around Nairobi, starting at Kasarani.”

City lawyer Fanya Mambo Kinyanjui said many activities are being undertaken to show the government is doing something, but it seemed like a waste of resources.

Unsuccessful projects

He said: “We can agree that none of the Kenya Kwanza projects have succeeded, and planting 15 billion trees in 10 years will be a joke, despite billions being directed to the project. Calculate how many trees they want to plant in a day, and you will realise this is a big scam wasting taxpayers’ resources.”

Various CSs were dispatched to different counties to participate in the tree-planting initiative, raising concerns about the efficient use of public resources. Critics argue that the extensive travel undertaken by high-ranking officials, such as CSs, PSs, and heads of parastatals, results in unnecessary expenses for the government.

Caleb Wanga, Executive Director of the Usalama Foundation, expressed concern about the escalating waste of resources during the high-profile trips. He highlighted hidden costs, including pollution, disruptions caused by closed shops, and the use of fuel-guzzling vehicles.

Wanga said: “What Kenyans are not being told is that the CSs travelled with PSs, aides, and bodyguards, using fuel guzzlers above 3000CC, indicating that the pollution caused on this day, the inconvenience of closing shops, and the stealing will take years to correct.”

State lounges

President Ruto’s Cabinet meetings held in various state lounges across the country have drawn particular attention. Critics say these extensive travels, involving top officials, have led to unnecessary expenses, raising questions about the government’s fiscal responsibility.

Insiders say alongside these excursions, CSs maintain standby teams, adding to the logistical complexity, all funded by taxpayers.

In just one year, Ruto has held Cabinet meetings in Kisumu, Kakamega, Sagana, and Mombasa state lounges. “This has ensured hundreds of people travel unnecessarily, wasting public resources. It is like taking a whole ministry to another city, town, or bush,” said Wanga.

Wanga expressed sadness that private helicopters are being used to rescue stranded individuals in flood-hit areas, with reports of at least 14 casualties due to flash floods prompting government warnings.

“I have not seen any government aircraft flying to help Kenyans stranded in floods because they have been diverted to other responsibilities of carrying CSs,” Wanga said.

Early this month, regional Commissioner John Otieno emphasised the severity of the situation during a tour of affected areas, cautioning the public against wading through flooded roads.

Attractive investment

The president has defended the recent tree-planting mission, claiming it bolstered Kenya’s global positioning as an attractive investment destination.

In a press conference on Monday, Prof Fred Ogolla, the Chief Executive Officer Linda Ugatuzi, said some of the events or functions the top government is eager to attend can easily be presided over by local administrators or county officials.

“Cabinet Secretaries are appointed to handle policy at the ministry level and not spend too much time travelling. There are county commissioners, deputy county commissioners, and chiefs in the field who can handle functions,” he said.

Ogolla added that if transport expenditure on transport can be cut, the pressure in other areas will be eased.

The Linda Ugatuzi crusader said the government could have spent about Sh1 billion flying CSs across the country to participate in the tree-planting campaign.

Ogolla called on Dr Ruto to listen to the cries of Kenyans affected by the high cost of living.

[Additional reporting by Collins Kweyu]

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