Travel allowances are becoming the most notorious avenue through which government funds are wasted. However, there is no doubt that travel is an important aspect of the duties of these officials. They travel abroad for vital meetings, workshops, seminars and for ‘benchmarking’.
The latter is an opportunity to learn from others how they solved challenges similar to the ones being faced in the country. Sadly, the funds spent on these junkets – which are sometimes no more than shopping missions abroad – could have been used to solve serious problems.
It is for this reason that the revelation by Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o that government officials spent a whopping Sh12 billion on foreign and domestic travel in the first nine months of the current financial year is shocking.
Domestic travel consumed Sh8.4 billion and foreign trips used up Sh3.9 billion by March 31. In a similar period in the 2020/21 financial year, the total expenditure was Sh9.2 billion.
The massive increase followed the lifting of Covid-19 travel restrictions. The extravagant expense certainly calls for close scrutiny. If it is established the funds were diverted for personal use, the recipients must be pursued and the money recovered.
These huge travel costs make a mockery of the austerity measures announced by the Treasury to free up funds for development projects and basic services. It is a shame that this happened at a time when public hospitals lacked basic drugs.
Most of these foreign trips involve large delegations that gobble up large per diem amounts. Some crooked officials have been flagged for drawing funds and not travelling at all. That is blatant fraud that must never be condoned.
The thieving also happened at a time when the government was grappling with a Sh430 billion burden in pending bills. It is encouraging that some foreign countries have questioned the real intentions of these trips and threatened to deny the officials visas. However, the government must institute vetting and impose strict controls.