Budget cuts loom for Parliament thanks to Sh9.6b Bunge Towers

Bunge Tower. President William Ruto defended the construction of the building and urged MPs to ensure they deliver quality legislation. [Elvis Ogina, Standard] 

President William Ruto wants Parliament to slice its operational budget for the  2024/2025 financial year following the opening of Bunge Tower.

Ruto made the calls even as parliamentary leadership defended itself against claims of misappropriation of funds during the 14-year construction of the Sh9.6 billion tower.

Speaking during the official opening ceremony of the 26-storey building in Nairobi on Thursday, the Head of State said the state-of-the-art offices will enable the August House to embark on cost cutting measures including cessation of holding parliamentary meetings in hotels.

“Now that we have all the facilities here including meeting rooms and committee meeting rooms, I hope I will see a significant reduction in the budget of Parliament. It must reflect somewhere,” Ruto said.

“…so, as you appropriate the next budget, just remember that Parliament does not now need money to go to hotels, and therefore the budget should come down,” he added.

In the 2024 Budget Policy statement report that has since been approved by the National Assembly, legislators increased their allocation by expanding spending limits. The Budget and Appropriations Committee increased Parliament’s allocation to Sh43.2 billion, up from Sh41.62 billion which had been allocated by the National Treasury for the 2024/2025 financial year.

It has also been common practice for majority of the 66 committees drawn from Parliament (National Assembly 45 and the Senate 21) to hold meetings in hotels such as Boma, Sarova, Serena, Weston and Hilton Garden Inn, among others in Nairobi and its environs, in pursuit of their legislative and oversight agenda. They also frequent Mombasa and Kisumu counties.

The decision to sit out outside the precincts of Parliament is usually informed by lack of space but in the process, they end up gobbling millions of tax- payers money that could be channeled towards other priority areas.

This is a reality that was brought to the fore by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah who also welcomed the now to be implemented cost cutting measures.

Ichungwah, who doubles up as Kikuyu MP, revealed that the Budget Committee, for instance, expends approximately Sh1.5 million on a daily basis during the budget consideration process where it retreats to a hotel for a about two weeks to consider the budget estimates.

“The Budget and Appropriations Committee has had to retreat to a hotel for a period of about two weeks to consider the budget estimates. During that period, Your Excellency, the National Assembly has been incurring an average of Sh1.5 million on a daily basis for the two weeks that the committee would retreat to a hotel, either Mombasa Road or in South C at the Boma Hotel,” he said.

“That tells you the amount of savings that you'll be making not just in this institution, but also in your government because we require many ministers and principal secretaries to be present in those parliamentary meetings. And they have had to commute from the offices in the CBD to out of Nairobi taking a lot of their time Your Excellency,” added Ichungwah.

He cited challenges that Parliament had to endure such as having only 10 committee rooms which forced MPs to use the small dining room and the new dining wing on the new side of Senate to be able to accommodate the committees.

Ruto also defended the construction of the building and urged MPs to live up to the expectations of Kenyans by undertaking quality legislation.

“This building is not a monument to extravagance, or grandeur. In the service of vanity, it is not intended to symbolise entitlement or impunity in the sense of the ability of legislators to appropriate and expend public resources without accountability. That is not what it is. Rather, it should be a symbol of our sense of public duty, constitutional obligation, national values and devotion to the national interest,” he said.

“You now have world class facilities, we expect world class representation, legislation and oversight. I tested the facilities including offices and you have now no reason not to give us the best legislation, I have no doubt that the quality of debate is going to greatly improve given that we have opened a state-of-the-art library,” added the President.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula sought to allay fears that funds for construction of the towers had been embezzled. He also hit out at leaders who have been criticising the project.

“I want to allay the skeptics who have been pouring vitriol on the structure, the rejectionists and many others who have been saying many things. This building is here, we will use it and it will serve the purpose for which it was meant,” he said.

Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi also said that the construction and commissioning of Bunge Tower was above aboard and poured cold water on claims of financial misappropriation.

“During my tenure as chair of the PAC, at no time did we find any impropriety in the construction of the building. I want to allay any fear that this project has been shrouded in corruption. We should pat ourselves on the back because of this project,” Wandayi said.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua warned MPs against getting stuck in their air-conditioned offices and abdicate their representation roles.

“Please do justice by putting hard work and service to the people who put you in Parliament. Seeing that facility, I know so many people would want to sit there and I am also sure it will attract competition. Don’t let that comfort dissuade you from going to mashinani (the grassroots),” Gachagua said.

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said that the launch of the building would lead to heightened competition in the next elections.

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