Puzzle of MCAs' Sh7 billion travel bill during lockdown
Counties spent Sh7.63 billion in local and foreign travel in the first nine months of this financial year, which was unexpected during the Covid-19 containment period due to travel restrictions, pointing to wasteful spending. Worse still, some counties spent more during the lockdown period than they did the year before.
Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o’s report fingers county officials and ward representatives for the huge expenditure during the period between July 2020 and March 2021.
Although the amount is lower compared to the Sh9.22 billion spent in FY 2019/20, some counties had more than doubled travel expenses as indicated in the latest report.
To contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease reported in Kenya in March 2020, the national government developed guidelines that restricted the movement of persons and promoted virtual meetings and working from home for non-critical government services.
This implied that government officers, including those in counties, were limited in the number of activities requiring physical meetings such as workshops and seminars.
In the report, Dr Nyakang’o singled out seven counties for their high expenditure on local travel and subsistence.
These are Kajiado at Sh333.14 million, Siaya (Sh332.55 million), Bungoma (Sh313.15 million), Tana River (Sh303.04 million) and Nairobi City at (297.97 million).
Top spending counties
Other top spenders were Machakos (Sh283.40 million), Meru (Sh264.09 million), Kitui (Sh249.63 million), Kiambu (SH245.10 million), Kisii (Sh213.69 million) and Nyeri (Sh202.23 million).
Those with high expenditure on foreign travel include Laikipia (Sh43 million), Nairobi (Sh42m), Mombasa (Sh29m), Bomet (Sh21.29m), and Homa Bay (Sh21 million).
Counties such as Baringo increased travel expenses from Sh106 million in 2019/20 to Sh148 million in 2020/21 while Kajiado officials spent Sh333.14 million, compared to Sh255.90 million previously.
The 2019/20 financial year had nearly four months of lockdown, from mid-March to June.
MCAs and Mandera county officials had incurred Sh38.20 million in travel in 2019/2020 during the lockdown, but the amount shot to Sh148 million this financial year, and while those in Nyeri had spent Sh173 million, it increased to Sh202.23 million.
Turkana’s travel expenditure rose to Sh401.65 million during the containment period compared to the Sh377 million spent in 2019/2020.
Monthly sitting allowance
“Article 201 of the Constitution requires that public money shall be used in a prudent and responsible way. The CoB recommends that the county treasuries should review expenditure on travel and subsistence allowances to ensure the cost is credible and also institute control measures to curtail this expenditure to avoid wasteful spending,” Dr Nyakang’o says in the report.
“Further, spending on non-core activities, such as travelling, should be rationalised to free funds for the implementation of essential development programmes,” she added.
The report raises the red flag on Laikipia and Homa Bay counties, which exceeded the Sh124,800 maximum monthly sitting allowance for MCAs.
West Pokot County Assembly did not report any expenditure on MCAs sitting allowance during the reporting period.
Cumulatively in the period under review, county assemblies spent Sh1.49 billion on MCAs’ sitting allowances against an approved budget allocation of Sh2.88 billion.
This expenditure translates to 51.8 per cent of the approved MCAs sitting allowance budget and a decrease from 56.2 per cent attained in a similar period of FY 2019/20 when Sh1.62 billion was spent.
The report shows the 47 counties spent Sh48.45 billion on development activities, representing an absorption rate of 25.1 per cent of the cumulative annual development expenditure budget of Sh193.3 billion.
Analysis of development expenditure as a proportion of approved annual development budget shows that Murang’a, Kitui, Kajiado and Mombasa counties attained the highest absorption rate at 50.5 per cent, 48.8 per cent, 47.8 per cent and 46.3 per cent respectively.
“This performance was a slight improvement from an absorption rate of 25 per cent reported in a similar period of FY 2019/20 when development expenditure was Sh49.78 billion. The CoB recommends that counties prioritise the implementation of development projects to improve the standard of living for their citizens,” the report states.
However, 25 counties reported absorption rates on development budget below the required limits.
These were Nairobi City, Kisumu, Lamu, Baringo, Nakuru, Samburu, Kilifi, Nyandarua, Vihiga, Turkana, Meru, Narok, Busia, Kericho, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kirinyaga, Migori, Laikipia, Tana River, Machakos, Siaya, and Isiolo.
Section 107(2) (b) of the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act, 2012 provides that over the medium term, a minimum of 30 per cent of the county governments’ budget shall be spent on development.
During the reporting period, county governments generated Sh23.52 billion, which was 45.6 per cent of the annual target of Sh56.02 billion. This was a decrease compared to Sh28.04 billion generated in a similar period of FY 2019/20.
“The performance was below the expected prorated target of 75 per cent in the first nine months of the financial year. The under-performance of own-source revenue collection implies that some planned activities may not be implemented in the financial year due to lack of funds and may lead to accumulation of pending bills,” said Dr Nyakang’o.