President William Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta more than doubled the spending on local travel to Sh579 million in the three months to June as campaigns for the August elections picked up momentum.
Although Dr Ruto was the incumbent Deputy President, Mr Kenyatta had thrown his weight behind opposition leader Raila Odinga, triggering a vicious campaign for the top job.
The heightened travel saw spending on trips by the Presidency —Dr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta’s office-- jump 191.3 percent from Sh198.79 million they spent in the three months to June 2021, the Controller of Budget report shows.
The Sh579 million is equivalent to 66.2 percent of the Sh873.90 million the Presidency spent on trips in the year to June, reflecting the increased travel by the two protagonists as Kenya approached the August 9 General Election.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the election of Dr Ruto as President, rejecting a petition lodged by Mr Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua, to have the result overturned.
The seven-judge bench said the petitioners failed to prove claims that the vote had been rigged.
Last month, the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, said Dr Ruto won 50.5 per cent of the vote, while Mr Odinga secured 48.8 per cent. But four out of seven electoral commissioners disowned the results, throwing Dr Ruto’s victory into doubt.
The increased travel spending came amid an austerity plan by the Treasury to free up cash for development and essential services such as health and education in a country grappling with high poverty levels.
The budget office data show that the national government splashed Sh20.17 billion on local and foreign travel in the year to June, reflecting a 41.9 percent jump from Sh14.21 billion spent a year earlier.
Government employees are entitled to per diems and other allowances whenever they travel locally on official assignments that include training and seminars.
The data shows that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—tasked with spearheading Kenya’s diplomatic ties—more than doubled its expenditure on travel to Sh2.44 billion, a 73.2 percent jump from Sh1.402 billion.
Other big spenders were the PSC at Sh2.29 billion, a 42.5 percent jump from Sh1.6 billion, and the Office of the President at Sh957.4 million, a 37.7 percent jump from Sh695 million spent a year earlier.
Members of Parliament and Senators spent Sh5.73 billion on foreign and local trips in the year under review.
Taxpayers have over the years spent billions of shillings on air tickets and per diems for State officials, especially on trips to expensive destinations in the US and expensive European cities like London, Paris, and Geneva.
Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakango attributed the surge in spending on travel to the lifting of restrictions on social gatherings and local flights, setting the stage for high spending
Spending on local travel slowed down in 2020 after Kenya banned social gatherings and suspended domestic flights after reporting the first positive case of coronavirus in March of the same year.
The bans had led to a suspension of local training and domestic travel for State officers. The travel restrictions led to a work-from-home shift, denying the top officials the perks.
But the officials have since late last year embarked on increased travel locally, mainly for training. MPs also embarked on early campaigns for the August 9 elections after the easing of the restrictions in July last year.
The spending craze highlights the struggles by the Treasury to cut non-essential travel locally and abroad to free up cash for development.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani has since 2018 maintained that all non-core expenditure will be reviewed to ensure the government can make savings and fund its programmes without relying too much on debt.