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COP28: Kenya bags Sh680 billion deals amid gravy train query

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This year’s COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has attracted a record number of delegates, with Kenya having one of the largest delegations, according to official records.

Kenya has a total of 765 delegates, being the 13th largest group out of the 195 participating nations.

While not all are sponsored by government, this record number of delegates flies in the face of recent pronouncements on cutting down travel expenses by State officials.

According to an interactive map of the respective delegations posted on the website carbonbrif.org, Kenya’s contingent is only five people fewer than that of the United States, the nation with the largest economy in the world. 

The list of the participants has also been published by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a spreadsheet format. According to UNFCC, a total of 97,372 participants were issued with badges to attend the conference in person.

The number is almost double that of the delegates who participated in COP27 last year in Eqypt.

The Kenyan group is bigger than those of larger economies such as Canada (742), Israel (718), Malaysia (700), United Kingdom (697), Republic of Korea (689), Russia (560), Italy (533), Germany (468), Singapore (360), Denmark (271), Qatar (264), Sweden (254).

And it is nearly twice the size of the European Union delegation (396).

Closer home, Kenya sent many more representatives than Tanzania and Uganda.

In Africa, only Nigeria (1,411) and Morocco (823) have much bigger contingents than Kenya, whose team is led by  .

Some of the senior government officials in the delegation are First Lady Rachael Ruto, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Cabinet Secretary Environment Soipan Tuya, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u, Attorney General Justin Muturi, Chief Justice Martha Koome, Senate Speaker Amason Kingi, Deputy Chief of Staff Josphat Nanok among others.

The Sunday Nation reached out to State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohammed, who is also in Dubai for the summit, and government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura for details and number of officials in the delegation sponsored by the taxpayers’ money.

Both Mr Hussein and Mr Mwaura had not responded by the time of going to press, even after we shared with them the list of the delegates as published by UNFCC.

Some sources in government, who did not want to be quoted, however, indicated that some of the delegates could have been sponsored by non-governmental organisations and other agencies.

“Issues of climate have a lot of interests and there are so many organisations involved. You may find that some of the officials in the delegations have been flown there by NGOs,” said the official.

Responding to concerns online about the size of the Kenyan delegation, Mr Dennis Itumbi said the President “is very serious about cutting down travel costs” adding that he had whittled down the number of those travelling with him from 189 to 51. 

“He (President) asked for the list of those travelling with him to Dubai for COP28. He got a list of 189 people. He returned it to the bureaucracy and demanded cuts. It came back as 144. He instructed that the list comes down to below 60. Finally, only 51 essential staff travelled from across Government. That was a 73 percent cut on travel costs. Ignore the rumours being spread by the usual suspects,” Mr Itumbi posted on X yesterday.

President Ruto recently announced that he had cut the travel budget by Sh11 billion across the three arms of government.

“We have cut the travel budget for all the three arms of government and sectors. We have cut the budget by 50 percent so that we can have money for more pressing needs. I saw the newspaper report that I had cut the budget by Sh500 million; I have cut it by Sh11 billion,” said President Ruto on October 27, while opening the Voi gemstone value addition and marketing centre.

The cut came at a time when the Head of State had spent over Sh56 million on traveling expenses in the first half of the financial year ending June 2024.

This is twice the amount spent by the same office in a similar period in 2021.

President Ruto has made 38 trips to foreign countries since taking office in September 2022 where he has visited 45 cities in 38 countries over the course of 83 days.

In May this year, the National Assembly’s Defence Committee wanted the Budget and Appropriations Committee to allocate an additional Sh1.3 billion to Dr Ruto’s globe-trotting mission after the Treasury only allocated Sh700 million.

The move came after a report three months before showed that President Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, had finished their full-year budgets in seven months. 

In July, President Ruto stopped non-essential foreign travel by State officers.

In a communication sent out by Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, such travels would be approved for officials playing a direct role in the scheduled activities or programmes of the principals.

“In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs is directed to rationalise the number of personnel accompanying each of the principals, and reduce the same by 50 per cent,” the circular said.

Mr Koskei said the decision was necessitated by the need to scale down and prioritise spending, focusing on the critical operations and activities that are essential to providing services to Kenyans.

He said the government would no longer meet expenses for benchmarking and study visits, training and related capacity building initiatives, research, academic meetings and symposia undertaken by government officers. Others were conferences and meetings of general participation; side events and exhibitions as well as caucus and association meetings and events.

The restrictions affected delegation sizes, which were limited to no more than three people for a cabinet secretary and governors and between two and one for other government officials.

Further, the officers would only be allowed to be out of the country for not more than seven days, including the travel dates, 15 days per quarter (three months) and 45 days per year. 

“Travel requests for all Cabinet Secretaries, Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS), Principal Secretaries (PS), chairpersons and chief executive officers of State corporations shall be sanctioned directly by the President himself,” the circular stated.

“Delegations should include the most relevant technical persons to assist the principal in the meetings, deliberations, or presentations related to travel. Personal assistants and security personnel will not be approved for travel, save for assistants to persons living with disability,” added the July circular.

Last Sunday, President Ruto said his administration was already implementing a 50 per travel budget cut. He made the remarks while endorsing the report by the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) that recommended major cuts in travel expenses by government officials.

“Nadco recommends that all arms of government shall reduce their travel budgets by 50 per cent and that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission review Daily Subsistence Allowances for State and Public Officers with a view to reducing by 30 percent,” states the report.

While addressing a congregation in Nairobi last Sunday, the President said some of the recommendations by the report were already being implemented.

“They have given recommendations; all those recommendations are okay. Where they said we lessen Government spending by 50 per cent, I have done that already,” said the President.

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