Senators stuck in Berlin, MPs ordered to return Sh19m per diems for cancelled UN trip

By Hillary Mageka On Wed, 4 Mar, 2020 08:52 | 3 mins read
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate counterpart Kenneth Lusaka at a past function. PHOTO | FILE
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate counterpart Kenneth Lusaka at a past function. PHOTO | FILE

By Hillary Mageka and Mercy Mwai

At least four senators and two parliamentary staff are stranded in Berlin, Germany as coronavirus spreads globally disrupting travel and key conferences.

The senators, who are members of the Senate Tourism, Trade and Industrialisation committee, had travelled to Germany for an annual trade conference.

But the conference which was slated to kick off on Monday was cancelled shortly after the politicians arrived.

The four lawmakers are committee chairperson and Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru, Loitiptip Anuar (Lamu), Christopher Langat (Bomet), Mwangi Githiomi (Nyandarua) and unnamed parliamentary staffers.

Their return has been complicated by the limited number of flights to Nairobi.

‘Exhausted per diems’

But according to sources, their situation has also been compounded by “self-inflicted” financial woes because they had exhausted their per diems even before the start of the conference.

Their efforts to get a refund from the hotel to facilitate their early return are said to have failed.

According to 2020 circular by Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) on per diem remuneration on House Speakers, all senators, MPs and clerks are entitled to Sh93,547 per day, implying for the seven days they were to be in Berlin, the four senators and the five that were to follow them were to pocket Sh655, 000 each which translates to Sh5.9 million for the team.

The coronavirus, which broke out in Wuhan City, China has infected close to 100, 000 people and killed more 3,000 lives globally.

It has spread to South Korea where 1,000 cases have reported. Other countries hit by the fast-spreading virus, include Italy and Iran where they have been fatalities.

The first coronavirus case was confirmed in the German capital, Berlin, causing the cancellation of the conference Kenyan MPs had gone to attend.

There are 157 reported infections in that country.

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka confirmed that the parliamentarians and staffers had travelled on an official trip and were expected back after the cancellation of the conference because of the coronavirus.

“Yes, I can confirm, four of my members are in Germany capital, but it is untrue that they stuck or stranded. In fact, they should be on their way back home,” he said.

He added: “Coronavirus is a threat to the whole world and it’s not peculiar to Kenya.”

Details of the senators ordeal come in the wake of cancellations of the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) promoting equality and women’s empowerment conference.

The sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women was scheduled to take place at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York from between March 9-20.

Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from all regions of the world, including Kenya were invited to attend the session.

At least five senators and 10 members of the National Assembly had already been facilitated by Parliament to attend high end meetings.

In cancelling the meeting, Mher Margaryan, the chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations New York, said they had take into account the advice from the World Health Organisation with regard to the global Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation, including the transmission dynamics in various locations.

“…the future likely spread of the virus; the reliance on physical measures for prevention —as there is no vaccine currently available; and the very large number of people from across the globe expected to participate in official meetings,” he said.

He added: “Given the manner in which the situation surrounding COVID-19 is rapidly developing, including the increasing number of travel restrictions, and mindful of the need to balance the continuation of essential activities with the protection of public health.”

Meanwhile, women legislators who were preparing to attend to attend the New York conference, will have to return their per diem after National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi announced that the conference had been postponed due to the coronavirus.

In a communication to the House, Muturi said his office is in receipt of communication from the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), which was conveyed through the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs indicating that the meeting had been scaled down from the initial two weeks to one day, owing to concerns related to the corona virus pandemic.

He said: “Members, in this regard, I regret to inform the House that the scheduled travel by the representatives of the National Assembly is hereby cancelled with immediate effect, unless contrary information is received from the UN. The House should note that the ongoing pandemic may affect other future travels. I, therefore, request Members to be patient and bear with us.”

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