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Of per diems and paying MPs to watch World Cup

Oftentimes when I am engaging in a tete-a-tete with friends, I find myself picking light moments of what we refer to as ‘war stories’ with those who have been privileged to serve the country as civil servants. I have recently come to learn that our public officials  feel that a lot is owed to them. Instead of being stewards of the public purse strings, Kenyan civil servants act entitled.

Consequently, the favourite word of a Kenyan civil servant is the word ‘per diem’.

According to the Kenya Revenue Authority, per diem refers to payments in respect of subsistence, travelling, entertainment and other allowances made by an employer to his employee while the employee is on official duties outside his usual station of work.”

Today, however, per diem is a cash cow that everyone in public life milks for their own benefit. I was horrified to learn that some civil servants do not even touch the basic salary deposited in their bank account because they manage to get by solely on per diems.

Once you grasp the simple fact that the per diem mentality governs everything in public service, then a whole lot starts to make sense. For example, the debacle of Kenyan legislators at the 2018 World Cup, some claimed it was official business while some claimed to have sponsored own trip to Russia.

It is understandable that the legislators are big football fans just like me and their voyage to Russia would not have been contentious had they cleared the air on who exactly funded the trip. But this being Kenya, your guess is as good as mine.

However, I am certain the reason they undertook the ‘benchmarking’ trip was not because they were so concerned about falling football standards. I know this because the final report they presented in Parliament was plagiarised and shoddily written.

The trip, I am convinced, was all about the per diems. Those legislators had stumbled on what is an open secret in government work, whether it is at the national or county level. Per diems are where you make the big bucks! Imagine watching the World Cup, and getting paid to do so!

I am an academic, my bread and butter comes from generating and spreading knowledge. I also strongly believe in lifelong learning as a requirement for making it in a knowledge economy.

So it is a serious thing for me to declare in this forum, that if we are going to cut the ever ballooning wage bill, we ought to seriously consider doing away with most seminars and conferences.

Seminars are the back door through which public officials squeeze ever more money from the taxpayer.

If Cabinet Secretaries are serious about curbing wastage in their ministries, they should look at severely slashing the budget allocated for per diems.

Unfortunately, my words won’t even be taken seriously. Remember, unlike the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, I am not holding another luncheon workshop for the umpteenth time discussing Wage Bill Management.

Instead, I am dispensing my advice for free in a wait for it… a free newspaper. Of course, there are always webinars!

—The writer is a Political Science PhD student at Northern Illinois University @janeksunga