Civil servants missed out on Sh7.39 billion in travel benefits and subsistence allowances in the three months to June after restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus suspended meetings and out-of-town assignments. The Controller of Budget (CoB) in its latest report of national government expenditure says ministries splashed Sh3.75 billion on travel and entertainment in the quarter to June when Kenya imposed coronavirus-induced lockdown, down from Sh11.14 billion in similar period last year. The meeting restrictions have denied State employees opportunities to boost their wages through perks such as mileage, sitting and subsistence allowances earned from local and foreign travels. The untaxed allowances have the effect of more than doubling an employee’s pay, making civil service jobs lucrative relative to private sector jobs. Travel spending in the three months to June fell by Sh3.41 billion to Sh1.81 billion while hospitality or entertainment expenditure dropped Sh3.98 billion to Sh1.94 billion, underlining the burden of non-essential expenses, such as trips abroad by officials and out of town work. Controller of Budget (CoB) Margaret Nyakang’o linked the fall to the Covid-19 restrictions that were imposed after Kenya’s first coronavirus case on March 12. “The decline is attributed to austerity measures on non-core activities and movement restriction both local and international to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in the country,” Ms Nyakang’o says in the report. “Some of the key budget items highly affected by the pandemic recording low expenditure included travelling, training and hospitality activities which are major spending lines by MDAs [ministries, departments and agencies].” Employers, including the government, have pushed their staff to work from home in the wake of the pandemic, which has drastically changed the way business is conducted and cut office-linked expenses. Kenya suspended international passenger travel, closed schools indefinitely, shut bars and golf clubs, imposed a daily dusk-to-dawn curfew and banned public gatherings to curb the spread of the virus that has infected 37, 871 people and killed 689 locally. The restrictions were imposed on March 25 and on July 6 the government announced the phased reopening of the country, lifting restrictions on travel in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa as well as allowing air travel to resume. But the Treasury says that restrictions on meetings, travel and trainings for civil servants will remain in the coming months, extending the perks drought for public servants. The World Bank reckons that public servants use the travel perks to enlarge their salaries. “While daily subsistence allowances (DSA) paid in connection with domestic and international travel fall under ‘other goods and services’ rather than the wage bill, DSA appears, at times and in part, to be used to supplement formal remuneration,” the World Bank said. The highest-ranking public servant 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. The lowest-cadre worker travelling to these towns is entitled to a Sh4,200 allowance per day. Senior civil servants earn Sh18,000 per day for retreats held in Nyeri, Eldoret, Kericho, Kakamega, Kilifi, Embu, Nanyuki, Nakuru, Lodwar and Garissa. The lowest-ranking officials earn Sh3,500. The deal gets rosier for civil servants travelling abroad who receive an average of Sh50,000 per day in allowances. The allowances structure shows that the payouts are higher for visits to the more frequented places like Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania and Addis, the African Union headquarters (ranging between Sh60,930 and Sh21,150), while rarely visited places like war-ravaged Afghanistan attract the lowest stipends of between Sh51,750 and Sh16,110 per day. The CoB report shows that the Interior ministry posted the biggest decline in travel and hospitality spend, which dropped to Sh530 million in the three months to June from Sh2.65 billion in similar period last year. The presidency — which makes the offices of President Uhuru Kenyatta and that of his deputy, William Ruto — spent Sh790 million down from Sh1.59 billion. Foreign Affairs ministry was the third biggest spender under these items in the period under review, spending Sh720 million from Sh1.32 billion in corresponding period last year, highlighting the positive impact of the restrictions on taxpayer funds. The Covid-19 imposed restrictions cut the annual spending on travel and entertainment perks by Sh5.96 billion in the period ended June compared to similar period last year. Taxpayers spent Sh21.06 billion on the perks in the period to June from Sh27.03 billion in similar period to June last year, reflecting a fall of 22 percent. The World Bank in its latest review of Kenya’s expenditure says the country will save up to Sh30 billion in the year to June 2021 or Sh2.5 billion monthly from civil servants’ reduced local and foreign trips — which often involve lavish travel allowances.
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