GBR Team 10/09/2019
The recent outrage over a trip by 90 members of parliament and support staff to a conference in the United States that cost Kenyan taxpayers millions of shillings has brought focus on the outsized parliamentary budget MPs for travel abroad.
And it emerges to be nothing short of shameless plunder and looting of public coffers to fund ever increasing budgets for foreign travels of dubious value to the nation.
This year, analysis shows, Kenya’s parliament stands to spend close to double on foreign travels and upkeep, what the entire US Congress spends in overseas travels.
At KES3.5billion (US$35million), the Foreign Travels and Subsistence allocation for parliament is 1.75 times the reported US$20m (KES2bn) that the US Congress spends on such travel despite that country running the world’s largest national budget. At a staggering $4.4trillion, the US national budget is 151 times the size of Kenya’s $29bn budget, while the 535 member Congress (100 Senators, 435 Representatives) is bigger than Kenya’s 416 member parliament. It also has a far bigger staff.
The Sh3.45bn for this year’s travel budget is itself a hike of over 31 per cent from the Sh2.63bn the legislators allocated themselves last year, the National Treasury’s Recurrent Expenditure Estimates 2019/20 indicate.
GBR’s analysis shows a trend where not only more and more money is being pumped into already huge travel budget items such as committee and legislative services but that new budgets are being created every year for personnel departments that previously did not qualify for such foreign travel funding or were already catered for existing departments.
Money in millions is now being allocated to departments like Serjeant at Arms, Hansard Services, Outreach, Wellness and Fitness, and Finance for Foreign Travel and Subsistence.
The bulk of this year’s budget though, Sh3.37bn, will go to Senators (Sh1.14bn) and MPs (Sh2.23bn) just for foreign travel alone.
On average each Senator will have Sh7.2m to spend on trips abroad this year from the total of Sh480m set aside for legislative and committee work overseas travels while MPs will access up to Sh5.21m each per year from their Sh1.8bn budget for overseas travels.
To boot, each Senator gets Sh597,000, while each MP gets Sh436,000 per month.
This has left them spoilt for choice for lucrative international destinations and within one month of the new financial year, the speakers of the two houses led the 90-man team to Nashville, Tennessee for the National Legislative Conference.
The conference which was held between August 5 to 8, 2019, saw Kenya’s parliament send the largest delegation which at 90 was more than three times the size of the next largest contingent of 20 delegates from Nigeria.
At US$800 (KESS80000) to register per delegate, Kenya’s team spent KES7million before travel, accommodation and upkeep expenses for the team which included leadership from both houses, senators, MPs and support staff from different departments.
This even as members of Kenyan national sports teams are repeatedly stranded in foreign capitals for lack of funding. County governments threaten shutdown over the National Assembly’s unwillingness to approve an extra KES11bn ($110m) to fund devolved services like health and early childhood education.
Parliamentary staff as well have hefty allocations for overseas travels with the Parliamentary Service Commission for example dedicating nearly half of its Sh244m annual budget to overseas travels.
GBR looked at past budgets where a trend emerges of ever escalating allocations for international travel for parliamentary members and their staff with no corresponding justification for the same.
It is not clear for example why this year, it was necessary to increase overseas travel allocation by almost KES1bn from the Sh2.6bn allocated last year, a 31 per cent hike.
To get to Sh2.6bn last year, parliament had again awarded itself a 36 per cent hike from the Sh1.9bn approved for travel abroad in 2017.
This means that as inflation has hovered around 5 per cent per annum, parliament has increased its budget for overseas travels by 81 per cent in two years with no accompanying explanation as to what value the country gets from the trips.
In the same period, the Judiciary has struggled to get its budgetary allocations increased to enable it build more courts around the country and hire more magistrates and staff.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
At Sh3.45billion, parliament’s overseas travel budget by far the biggest of any arm or department in government.
For perspective, the Sh1.8bn set aside for Members of Parliament’s international travel (National Assembly alone), surpasses the Sh1.74bn allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for all its overseas travels including the Sh640m for all diplomatic missions, and the Sh1.1 for the Protocol Directorate, charged with overseeing all of Kenya’s international relations.
The Presidency comes in at Sh916m.
Between the year 2013 when the ruling Jubilee Alliance took control of Parliament and the budget-making process, the overseas travel budget has grown by an astonishing 316 per cent from Sh829m for the entire parliament, to over Sh3bn today.
The 2013 figure, would not cater for the National Assembly’s committee’s budget for travel abroad. This year’s Committees have a Sh1.3bn budget to spend on international travels.
Source: National Treasury
The National Assembly allocation has risen dramatically from about Sh500m in 2013/14 financial year to Sh2.2bn in the 2019/20 FY.
Senate in the meantime has seen its overseas travel budget climb from less than Sh300m in 2013 to Sh1.14bn this year.