Wastage in government beats logic of Uhuru's austerity calls

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Deputy President William Ruto and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Henry Rotich consults during the Launch of the Electronic Procurement and payment System at KICC. [Photo: Standard]

Travels, fuel guzzlers and duplication in parastatals continue to fuel the wastage, costing Kenyans billions of shillings annually.

As President Uhuru Kenyatta came back from the United Nations General Assembly last week, it emerged that his travels and those of government officials had ballooned by Sh6 billion in three years.

Travels by government officials pushed the cost of domestic and foreign travels from Sh9.3 billion in 2013-14 to Sh15.4 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, according to a report by the Controller of Budget.

Observers claim that several domestic and foreign trips by VIPs, including their hangers on, are costing the country billions of shillings cumulatively and continue to burden Kenyans. The privileges come with domestic travel allowance, yet these senior State officials have assigned official drivers, security and personal assistants (PAs) who are all paid by the taxpayer.

Fuel guzzlers

In the last two months, President Kenyatta has been to the US (twice) and to China while his deputy William Ruto has been to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At that same time, three other Cabinet Secretaries were on different foreign trips. Yet foreign travels do not paint the whole picture of the excesses in government.

Saturday Standard trailed a senior Cabinet Secretary as he underwent his daily engagements. 

The day for the CS begins at 6am when he leaves his home for an early morning meeting. The home is guarded by two armed police officers on an eight-hour shift. This means that six police officers are assigned to guard the CS’s house every day.

The CS is chauffeured around in a vehicle with an engine capacity of 4,000cc. He has a driver and his bodyguard, and another with same engine capacity to trail him all day long. It also has his aides.

To clear the endless Nairobi traffic and ensure the CS gets to his office punctually, there is a chase car, with a 2,500cc engine.

In the CS’s busy diary is a 10am meeting at a top hotel to receive deliberations of a ministerial committee formed five months back. Invited are a group of ministry stakeholders and technocrats who will partake a sumptuous lunch paid for by the ministry.

The boardroom at the ministry is not occupied for the days that the meeting is being held in the hotel. It is lying idle but was renovated and   Since the boardroom was renovated there has been little activity lying idle most of the year is being renovated and new curtains placed, there several other board rooms in the hotel.

The following day, the CS flew to Mombasa for another meeting at a five-star hotel. Four aides accompany him in his flight while his two drivers went a day before. They all enjoy a myriad of allowances for the working tour.

All Cabinet Secretaries -- the 22 of them --  enjoy such perks. Almost similar privileges are enjoyed by the principal secretaries and the chief administrative secretaries.

The acquisition and maintenance of fuel guzzlers, expenditure on hospitality and entertainment coupled with the parastatals with almost duplicate roles are on a monthly basis costing Kenyans billions of shillings in unnecessary expenses.

In the last three years, the government’s expenditure on motor vehicle maintenance alone had shot to Sh2.2 billion in 2016-17 from Sh1.5 billion in 2013-14 according to the Controller of Budget.

The rising maintenance cost comes despite the fact that hundreds of police vehicles are now leased and do not require to be maintained by the government. While serving as Finance minister in 2009, Uhuru won accolades from Kenyans when he issued a directive that all senior government officials would relinquish luxurious fuel guzzlers for vehicles with engine capacities less than 1800cc. The car identified then was a Volkswagen Passat which goes for Sh5 million. 

“Today, government officials compete to have the biggest, top of the range SUVs. They go for comfort and reliability at the expense of the overtaxed Kenyan,” said Consumer Confederation of Kenya (Cofek) Chief Executive Stephen Mutoro.

Three weeks ago, President Kenyatta signed into law Finance Bill that among other things introduced an eight per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on fuel.

Through the law, Uhuru will be seeking to raise Sh130 billion to bridge a budget deficit occasioned by the failure by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to meet its targets.

Overtaxed Kenyans

But economic pundits have argued that tightening the noose on wastage in government could be enough to cushion against overtaxing Kenyans.

For instance, according to the Inspector of Police Joseph Boinett, there are over 10,000 regular, administration police and the General Service Unit (GSU) officers that protect senior government officers and their premises. 

In defence of the President’s travels, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma said Uhuru’s foreign trips were a boon for the country as such travels win the country trade, investment and better ties with the rest of the world.

“In the Cuba trip between March 14 and 17, for instance, the President  struck a deal for the deployment of 100 Cuban medical specialists to Kenya’s public health facilities who are now working n different 47 counties,” said Ms Juma.

Travels by the President and his deputy, Juma said, dropped 66 per cent to Sh44 million in the six months to December last year. Critics (Mutoro),  have been arguing that the many foreign trips by Uhuru in the two years of his first term could have set example for other public officials to waste public funds on foreign travels.

Since 2013 when he was sworn-in, Uhuru has made more than 90 trips out of the country.

In this year’s budget, the presidency was allocated Sh8 billion, most of it being recurrent expenditure. This is Sh7 billion more than what former President Mwai Kibaki received in his final year. Kibaki never spent beyond Sh1 billion annually in his 10-year tenure as President.

A look by the Saturday Standard at the 2018-19 budget indicates that the President, his deputy and their spouses spent more than half a billion shillings in tea, biscuits and other hospitality supplies and services. 

“If properly utilised, the annual cost of interior decor, flowers and fragrances in government offices is enough to equip several hospitals with critical medicines and medical equipment,” said Mutoro said.

In the presidency’s budget for hospitality supplies and services for instance, Uhuru’s State House received Sh530 million while Mrs Kenyatta’s office budget estimate is Sh192 million. That of Mrs Ruto was Sh35 million out of an estimate of Sh607 million.

“Why should we allocate funds to the office of the First Lady and that of the DP’s wife when their husbands’ offices have separate allocations? The funds can be used elsewhere,” said an MP who is also member of the Budget Committee.

Domestic travel

In the 2018-19 budget, departments like International Boundary Office that falls within the presidency got Sh86 million followed by the Cabinet office that is allocated Sh62 million.

Other recipients are Power of Mercy Secretariat, which is is allocated Sh26 million, coordination and supervisory services (Sh19 million), national cohesion department (Sh18 million), policy analysis research (Sh11 million) and three votes for the Aids Control Unit (Sh1.9 million).

In Parliament for instance, it emerged that the domestic travel has become an informal income stream for the lawmakers. The easiest way to make money from foreign travel is to cause an international body or organisation to make an invitation to a government department, officer or committee of Parliament or county assembly to attend some event.

“The accounting officer is often coerced or induced to authorise/fund the travel. International agencies that invite public officers to their events must also foot the bill,” disclosed an officer in Parliament.

Foreign trips in Europe attract between Sh60,000 ($600) to Sh70,000 ($700) a day while the US is Sh80,000 ($800) a day. The MPs fly business class.

To Mutoro, the elephant in the room is the bloated list of parastatals and government agencies that eat into the exchequer’s cash with almost duplicated roles. (see separate story).

Also fingered for wastage of public funds are parastatals with duplicate roles. A classic clear case is the Kenya Accreditation Service (Kenas), the Export Promotion Council (EPC), Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA), Brand Kenya Board, Kenya Investment Authority (KIA), Kenya National Trading Corporation Ltd (KNTC), Special Economic Zones Authority, Tourism Fund and Kentrade which engage in overlapping roles on trade.

Other agencies with the overlapping functions include Anti-Counterfeit Agency and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs). In the road sector are the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha), Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) and the Kenya Rural Roads Aithority (Kerra) while the National Construction Authority (NCA), National Housing Corporation (NHC), Kenya Building Research Centre and Rent Restriction Tribunal have clashing roles in the construction sector.

A single parastatal in Kenya has a board of between seven and nine members, a chief executive officer and an entire management structure who earn hefty salaries.

- Story by Jacob Ng’etich, Everlyne Kwamboka and Roselyne Obala.


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