Parliament was Tuesday evening hard-pressed to explain why it is spending tens of millions of shillings this week to pay for the flights and accommodation of a delegation of 85 legislators and members of staff to the US to attend a legislative assembly.
Kenya is sending the largest delegation in the world to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in Nashville, Tennessee, at a time when President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration is proposing cuts on foreign travel as part of a wide range of austerity measures.
Both Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate are leading the Kenyan delegation comprising MPs, MCAs, clerks and support staff.
The only other country that is sending a large delegation is Nigeria, which has flown 20 legislators to the US.
Many other countries have sent between one and six delegates. They include Indonesia (one), Portugal (two) and Japan (six).
Orange Democratic Movement Raila Odinga criticised the huge expenditure as a “scandalous waste of revenue” by Parliament and the county assemblies.
Through his spokesman, Mr Odinga said he “finds no justification at all in Parliament and county assemblies sending such a huge delegation on a mission where a handful could come back with a report”.
The Nation could not establish the exact cost of the trip, but there were indications it could cost taxpayers nearly Sh100 million.
The Commission on Revenue Allocation stipulates that the Speakers of Parliament are paid about Sh75,000 as daily subsistence allowance for travel to the US, MPs pocket Sh65,000, and MCAs Sh42,600.
A round-trip business class ticket on the national carrier Kenya Airways costs about Sh587,000 from Nairobi to Nashville International Airport, and about Sh355,000 for economy class. Kenya Airways started direct flights to New York last year and the delegation has to connect from there to Nashville in Tennessee. An average hotel room in Nashville goes for between Sh15,000 and Sh30,000.
Most of the members of the Kenyan delegation are said to have arrived in the US last weekend and will leave next weekend.
Mr Odinga said the US trip was evidence that “these institutions have money they do not know what to do with, or they simply don’t care about the burden taxpayers are bearing.”
Although the Tennessee conference targets State legislators, legislative staff, government officials, business representatives, educators and others interested in public policy, the Kenyan delegation also included a number of personal assistants to the legislators.
Apart from the two Speakers, those in Kenyan delegation include Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Cleophas Malala, Parliamentary Service Commission vice-chair Naomi Shaban and Clerk of the Senate Jeremiah Nyegenye.
Others are County Assemblies Forum (CAF) Chief Executive Judy Oduma and her vice-chairperson Esther Ndile.
Others listed as among those in the Kenyan delegation are MPs Cecily Mbarire, Charles Njagua, Asha Hussein, Adan Keynan, Ben Momanyi, Julius Mawathe, Mutunga Kanyuithia, Nyaga Muchiri, Omboko Milemba, Tecla Tum, and Daniel Tutoek.
Senators include Susan Kihika, Aaron Cheruiyot, Ali Abdullahi, James Orengo, Beth Mugo, Mutula Kilonzo Jr, Falhadfa Iman, George Khaniri, and Eric Mogeni.
Also in the US are parliamentary commission members Samuel Chepkonga, Aisha Katana, Lonah Mumelo and Parliamentary Budget Office director Phyllis Makau.
Among the speakers at the conference are American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton; presidential biographer, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America’s most prominent historians Jon Meacham; author Wes Moore; celebrated filmmaker Evan Shapiro; and CNN political contributor Vin Jones.
In total, the conference targeted about 5,000 delegates worldwide. On Tuesday, discussions centred on transformational leadership and cultivating credibility in the media.
The conference ends tomorrow and coincided with a visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to Jamaica. Another training targeting government officials from 21 Kenyan border counties has been going on in Arizona and Washington, DC.
A report by the Auditor-General’s office indicates that MCAs spent Sh162 million on foreign travel in the 2016/17 financial year. The county executive spent a staggering Sh267 million in the same period.
Governors have also been accused by the Auditor-General and Controller of Budget of spending billions of shillings on foreign travel, while President Kenyatta has made more than 100 foreign trips since he was sworn in for his first term in April 2013, triple the 33 his predecessor Mwai Kibaki made in his 10-year reign.
While expressing concern about the huge public wage bill last year, the Controller of Budget said demands for increased salaries and allowances by public officers and civil servants must be addressed, warning that the wage bill may not be sustainable in the long run if not contained.
The NCSL is the leading professional organisation for clerks, sergeants-at-arm and other legislative staff. In recent years, the group has stepped up its technical assistance and training efforts in order to meet the ever-expanding demand.