Ruto, Gachagua splash Sh785m on travel in six months amid austerity

President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto receive a bouquet upon arrival in Rome, Italy on January 28, 2023. [PCS]

Kenya’s top executives spent more than Sh800 million in foreign and domestic travel in the second half of last year even as the government talked tough on the need to cut unnecessary expenditure in the public sector.

Data from the latest report from the Controller of Budget indicates that the executive offices of the President, Deputy President and that of the Prime Cabinet Secretary spent Sh820 million cumulatively in travel in the six months ended December 2023. 

This represents an increase of more than 178 per cent compared to the figure spent by the President and his deputy over a similar period in 2022. 

According to the latest data on the national government’s expenditure, State House recorded Sh415 million and Sh40 million in domestic and foreign travel in the first half of the 2023-2024 financial year. 

The Office of the Deputy President spent Sh184 million and Sh111 million in domestic and foreign travel respectively.   

The expenditure was much higher compared to the Sh295 million and Sh265 million recorded in the first half of the 2022-2023 and 2021-2022 financial years, and represented seven per cent of the entire government’s travel budget for the half year under review.

“In the first six months of the 2023-24 financial year, travelling expenditure amounted to Sh11.38 billion, compared to Sh8.11 billion recorded in a similar period in the previous year,” said Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o in her report.

“This comprised domestic travel at Sh7.67 billion and Sh3.71 billion on foreign travel.” 

During his State of the Nation address in November last year, President Wiliam Ruto said the government and public officers would cut unnecessary expenditure as part of measures to reign in the yawning budget deficit and reduce borrowing.

“We must admit that as a country, we had been living large and way beyond our means,” he said during his address at the National Assembly.

“The time has come, therefore, to retire the false comforts and illusory benefits of wasteful expenditure, and counterproductive subsidies on consumption by which we dug ourselves deeper into the hole of avoidable debt.”

Ruto’s speech last year came in the wake of rising concern that Kenya’s high risk of debt distress was placing the country on the path of a default on its external debt obligations, particularly on its $2 billion Eurobond that matures in four months - but which has partly been settled through a new Eurobond.

In the latest commitments to the International Monetary Fund released last month, the National Treasury has listed reduced expenditure on travel, allowances and hospitality as part of the austerity measures in the public sector to help bring down the deficit.  

“On the expenditure side, the budget will seek to accompany the ongoing efforts to contain expenditures for wages and transfers - including related to public sector entities and subsidies - and to improve the efficiency of public expenditures with new initiatives,” said Treasury. 

“The latter include achieving new spending savings of about 0.6 per cent of GDP by containing recurrent expenditures - including related to travel, allowances, and hospitality—and further rationalizing the portfolio of non-priority projects.”

In the report, the Controller of Budget cautioned that several departments and State agencies overdrew their budgets above the amounts originally set out largely owing to cuts occasioned by the first supplementary budget.

“Analysis of financial reports submitted to the Controller of Budget shows that some expenditures were more than the budgeted amounts, resulting in overdrawn budget lines,” the report said.

“This is attributed to budget cuts during Supplementary Budget I, approved during the period under review.”

Some of the agencies that overdrew their budgets include the State Department for ICT which recorded Sh15.2 billion in expenditure for the six months ended December 2023, against the budgeted expenditure of Sh10.1 billion. 

The state department for co-operatives similarly reported Sh4.7 billion, against a budget of Sh3.1 billion, representing an over-expenditure of Sh1.5 billion.

“Controller of Budget recommends MDAs to liaise with the National Treasury to ensure the overdrawn items are regularised in the subsequent Supplementary Budget,” said Nyakang’o in her report.

“In addition, MDAS should reallocate funds to budget lines with the likelihood of the planned activities not likely to be delivered as planned to those that will absorb funds.”