State officials gobble up over Sh11b on travel and hospitality


National Assembly and Senate buildings at Parliament. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Government officials spent more than Sh11.11 billion on travel and hospitality in the half-year to December, a 42 per cent increase from the previous year, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Data from the Controller of Budget (CoB) shows that the expenditure was an increase from Sh7.8 billion that was used between July and December 2020, when the country imposed strict measures including limiting physical meetings and banning international flights due to Covid-19.

Spending on domestic travel rose 22 per cent to Sh5.97 billion while foreign travel costs were Sh2.88 billion, a 188 per cent increase from Sh1 billion spent in the previous similar period.

The National Assembly accounted for Sh1.96 billion on domestic travel, making Members of Parliament (MPs) the heaviest spenders in that category.

MPs had spent Sh70.17 million between July and December 2020 but increased this by over 10 times to Sh809.57 million in six months to December last year.

The increased spending on travel highlights the impact of easing Covid-19 control measures such as airlines resuming international flights after months of disruption.

Other big spenders on domestic travel were the State Department of Interior and Coordination Services at Sh761.08 million, Judiciary with Sh341.32 million, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission at Sh307.62 million and Executive Office of the President at 244.78 million.

The travel budget has now outstripped the Sh8.86 billion that was spent in the pre-pandemic period between July and December 2019.

During the review period, hospitality spending, mainly on reception and entertainment of guests, hit Sh2.27 billion from Sh1.91 billion the previous year.

The increase was recorded on the back of gradual resumption of working from offices and removal of limits on the number of people allowed in a gathering.

The increase in such costs highlights the government’s struggles to reduce foreign trips that have been flagged as major avenues for the wastage of taxpayers’ funds.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Mr Ukur Yatani in 2019 announced budget cuts on non-essential items such as trips, training and car expenses to curb borrowing in an economy where taxes are being blamed for increased pressure on the cost of living.

But Treasury is also in the limelight, having spent Sh236.22 million on hospitality during the six months.

The spending is only rivalled by that of the Executive Office of the President at Sh430.78 million and the Foreign Affairs ministry’s Sh430.78 million. State officials also took advantage of relaxed Covid-19 restrictions to hold trainings, raising the spending to Sh1.83 billion—3.6 times more than the Sh512.8 million spent in a similar period in 2020.

The biggest spender on training was the Teachers Service Commission at Sh503.76 million or 27.5 per cent of total training costs for government officials. The rise in travel, hospitality and training costs increased operations and maintenance costs from Sh544.73 billion to Sh557.36 billion during the review period.

Operating and maintenance costs also include printing and advertising, rent and rates for non-residential buildings, legal fees and maintenance expenses for motor vehicles and other assets. Legal fees nearly doubled from Sh672.09 million to Sh1.28 billion, with the State Department for Interior and Citizen Services leading at Sh602.11 million.

The State Department for Wildlife spent Sh572.87 million, meaning that together with Interior and Citizen Services, the two accounted for 92 per cent of total legal fees.

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