The Jubilee administration spent more than Sh4 billion in the first three months of the current fiscal year on non-essentials, including travel and hospitality, despite promises of austerity.

The Controller of Budget’s report for the First Quarter of 2019-2020 financial year is full of non-essentials, even as most Kenyans were forced to tighten their belts.

In the same period during the last financial year, the government spent slightly less, meaning the government’s appetite for consumption continues unabated.

For two years, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been calling for austerity and pay cuts, which lawmakers rejected. Their spending flies in the face of the President’s directions.

On September 19, Acting Treasury Cabinet Security Ukur Yatani ordered a freeze on non-core essentials, without special authorisation. They include foreign and domestic travel as well as hospitality.

Parliament, the presidency, Foreign Affairs and the Interior docket were the big spenders in non-core areas.

According to the report, government ministries, agencies and departments spent  Sh3.5 billion on domestic and foreign trips in the three months reviewed.

During the same period in the last fiscal year, they spent Sh1.7 billion on domestic travel and Sh1.1 billion on foreign trips.

They also spent Sh806 million on hospitality — basically snacks and tea in government offices — as well sumptuous fare at as State banquets.

A further Sh683.7 million was spent on training.

In the same period during the last financial year, the government spent Sh781 million on hospitality and Sh553 million on training.

Yatani’s circular said: “The expenditure control measures outlined in this circular are aimed at enhancing prudent financial management by ensuring that we live within our means, create savings for the much-needed service delivery and foster financial responsibility,” Yatani said in a September 2019 circular.

In his New Year’s message to Kenyans, President Uhuru Kenyatta admitted that some Kenyans had a rough year in 2019.

“As we look back on the achievements and milestones of 2019, I know that there are those among us who had a very difficult year, either economically or through personal tragedies,” Uhuru said.

According to an end-year poll conducted by Tifa, nearly half of Kenyans, 48 per cent, said 2019 was a bad year.

However, the new report indicates that in just 90 days into the current financial year, the National Assembly alone spent Sh1.4 billion on local and overseas trips.

The House also spent Sh42 million on hospitality and training.

The Parliamentary Service Commission, the statutory body that employs members of the National Assembly and Senate, spent Sh220.8 million on domestic travel and Sh224.1 million on foreign travel.

A further Sh83.5 million was incurred on hospitality and training during the 90 days.

The report shows that the PSC’s local travel costs increased from Sh213.9 million and foreign travel expenditures from 184.6 million during the same period in the previous year.

Parliament has often been criticised by the public and lobby groups for pocketing millions of shillings in allowances for sittings they didn’t attend as well as unjustified travels.

Travel is seen as a gravy train for government officials to take home fat allowances over and above their attractive salaries, thus increasing operating costs.

The 10-member Parliamentary Service Commission is considered one of the most lucrative bodies to join. Its members enjoy an array of benefits including free luxury vehicles, elegantly furnished offices staff.

The commission is chaired by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, with Taveta MP Naomi Shabaan currently his deputy. Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye is the secretary to the powerful and influential commission.

According to a December 2014 circular issued by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission on allowances, top government officials earn a daily subsistence allowance that varies depending on the country or city they visit.

The new report shows that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent Sh687.2 million on trips  — Sh78.6 million on local travel and Sh608.6 million on foreign travel.

A further Sh 230.8 million was incurred on hospitality while Sh3.2 million was spent on training.

The office of the Auditor General, whose staff travel across the country to scrutinise expenditures of public funds, spent Sh220.3 million on local travel and 13.4 million on trips overseas.

The Teachers Service Commission was the single largest spender on training with Sh408.4 million to train teachers on the new curriculum, laptops and other subjects.

For the first three months, the giant ministry of Interior, which includes government administration and coordination, spent Sh150.6 million on trips.

The ministry spent another Sh64.8 million on hospitality and training during the three months under review.

During the same period in the preceding financial year, the ministry spent Sh288.8 million on trips and Sh298.4 million on hospitality and training.

The presidency — comprising President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office, Deputy President William Ruto’s office and the Cabinet office — spent Sh117 million on local travel and Sh30.4 million on foreign trips.

The presidency also spent Sh174.6 million on hospitality. This cash is used for refreshments for state guests, buying snacks, sodas, tea and flowers. And banquets.

The presidency also spent Sh2.5 million on training.

During the same period in the 2018-2019 financial year, the presidency spent Sh111.9 million on travel while Sh160.8 million was spent on hospitality and training.

“The Office calls on all the stakeholders to continue monitoring the budget implementation by the National Government. Such monitoring will contribute towards promoting prudence in the use of public funds and ensuring that budgeted activities are implemented for the betterment of Kenyans,” the report signed by acting CoB Stephen Masha says.

The President has been calling for taming the ballooning public sector wage bill. It is projected to hit Sh760 billion in the current fiscal year.

In September, the National Treasury ordered “brutal” budget cuts in light of a revenue shortfall of Sh91 billion and rising expenditure pressures.

CS Yatani also ordered a chop on other expenses, including training, communication supplies, printing and advertising, purchase of furniture, office and general supplies, use of government vehicles, and size of government delegations in meetings outside the country.

Despite the government’s radical austerity plans, expenditures on non-essentials are on an upward trend while the recurrent costs continue to consume over three-quarters of the total government costs.

The Office of the Auditor-General has in recent reports revealed how senior government officials are misusing imprests by failing to surrender receipts and other supporting documents to account for their travel expenses outside normal work stations.

During the current financial year, the Treasury has allocated Sh1.2 trillion to ministries, departments and agencies to cater for recurrent expenditure.

This reflects a slight increase compared to Sh1.1 trillion allocated in the 2018-2019 financial year. The total expenditure by the national Government in the first three months amounted to Sh564.2 billion.

This expenditure consisted of Sh235 billion on recurrent programmes by MDAs, Sh229.5 billion on Consolidated Fund Services and Sh99.7 billion spent on development activities.