Legislators lose Sh2.5b travel allowance to pandemic

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 00:00 | By
National Speaker Justin Muturi. PHOTO/Samuel Kariuki

Members of Parliament and county assemblies are feeling the pinch of the coronavirus pandemic with majority of them now living minus lucrative travel allowances.

In his second Supplementary Budget, Treasury CS Ukur Yatani cut Sh2.5 billion from MPs’ travel kitties.

Most of the members’ salaries are depleted by loans and mortgages, leaving them with travel allowances for upkeep.

Likewise, Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) lost close to Sh600 million meant for travel, local and foreign.

The crisis has also set governors in a precarious position as they use foreign trips to entice MCAs to support them.

Offices of the two Speakers have not been spared either with that of the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi having its budget for foreign travel chopped by Sh33 million, while that of his Senate counterpart Kenneth Lusaka lost Sh30 million.

Lucrative meetings

Among the ‘lucrative’ meetings which have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic, include the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which was set for September this year in New York and the International Day for Parliamentarians (World Parliament Day) celebrations that were to be held in London on June 30. 

Others are the World Health Assembly in Switzerland, World Trade Organisation (WTO) Fair in Portugal, Inter Parliamentary Union, (IPU) Summit in China and the East African inter-parliamentary games in Arusha.

Members of the Sports Committee were already gearing up for travel to Japan for the Olympics Games when the virus struck. For such events, all 19 members are entitled to attend.

Each of the MPs would have reaped Sh1.2 million for the 10 days spent in Japan. The official Parliamentary Service Commission per diem for Japan is $1,102 or Sh110,200.

Webuye West MP Dan Wanyama, a member of the committee, said that following the current situation all sporting activities for the year have been cancelled.

“For instance, the Olympics in Tokyo were called off meaning the committee did not deliberate on it at all. Many other sports events have suffered the same fate,” said Wanyama.

The committee is a lucrative one in terms of foreign trips and per diem in local engagements.

This year, its members were set to attend the World Rally Championship, (Safari Rally), the African Athletics championships and the Athletics Continental Tour in Nairobi.

The committee was to be part of the planning team where huge allowances are drawn.

Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma once presented his pay slip in court indicating he was earning nothing after deductions.

Kaluma explained that even though being called Mheshimiwa sounds prestigious, he was certain that most MPs could be taking home a paltry Sh1,000 at the end of the month.

He argued that most MPs had committed their salaries on mortgages and other loans, and rely on allowances drawn from both foreign and local travel.

“Besides the mortgages, loans and taxation, you will realise that most of us earn Sh1, 000 and below,” claimed Kaluma.

An MP who sought anonymity told People Daily that most of his colleagues had completely drained their coffers.

“Most of us relied on travel allowances to survive as our salaries go towards servicing loans . . . at times even fueling is a problem,” he said.

Going by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) per diem rates, Speakers and all MPs travelling to the US are paid $1,196 (Sh119,600) per day, meaning those who were to attend UNGA would have pocketed Sh1.19 million for their 10-day stay.

Those who were travel to London for the World Parliament Day would have made Sh1.1 million. Per diem for London is $1,108 a day. The team Switzerland was entitled to $1102 (Sh110, 200) daily.

The team to the WTO Fair in Lisbon could have been paid Sh66,800 daily, while the IPU attendees in China would have pocketed Sh63,700 daily for 12 days.

For the EALA games, which are attended by more than 100 members and staff, and a per diem of $ 629 (Sh62, 900), each would have made a cool Sh880,600 for the 14 days stay in Arusha.

MCAs have had a number of benchmarking trips cancelled owing to the coronavirus crisis. 

MPs spent Sh2.2 billion on domestic travel in the first nine months of 2018/19 and another Sh1.2 billion on trips abroad.

Parliamentary staff are also feeling the pinch after their Sh1.04 billion on domestic travel was withdrawn.

Worst affected

But the worst affected are MCAs whose monthly salary is Sh144,000.

One of them from Kiambu County told People Daily a majority of his colleagues are going without pay.

“Most of us secured mortgages and loans knowing very well that we will survive on travel allowances. Unfortunately when coronavirus struck, travels stopped and we were left struggling,” narrated the MCA.

He said that each MCA is entitled to at least two foreign trips annually and a number of committee trips. Others accompany governors on foreign trips.

The situation is the same for local travels where the highest-ranking member is entitled to Sh22,000 for a day’s stay in Naivasha, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nairobi, Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale — explaining why these towns have become popular with government retreats.

MCAs travelling to these towns is entitled to a Sh4,200 allowance per day.

Lawmakers travelling for retreats held in Nyeri, Eldoret, Kericho, Kakamega, Kilifi, Embu, Nanyuki, Nakuru, Lodwar and Garissa, are paid Sh18,000 a day.

The allowances structure shows that the payout is higher for rarely visited places such as war-ravaged Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

The Treasury singled out overseas trips — which often involve hefty travel allowances and huge entourages — and hospitality or entertainment spends by government departments — as examples of wasteful spending.

Spending on foreign and local trips set back taxpayers Sh12.5 billion in the year to June 2019, up from Sh3 billion five years ago.

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