Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula on Monday said he is going to seek Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s intervention over last year’s move by government to halve tourist visa fees.
The minister said the decision to cut the visa fees by 50 per cent was made by Tourism minister Najib Balala and the Treasury, without his knowledge or even the concurrence of his Immigration counterpart Otieno Kajwang’.
Mr Kajwang’ also raised the matter on Monday with Parliament’s Committee on National Security.
He said the decision was responsible for some of the unfinished projects in the ministry.
The Foreign Affairs Minister spoke as he defended his Sh7.6 billion budget before Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations
“Kenya has been branded as a cheap tourist destination, to an extent that quality tourists prefer to go elsewhere due to the perceptions associated with a cheap visa,” the minister told the committee. “I am sceptical that an American coming to Kenya will choose Kenya just because of a cheap visa fee.”
The minister wants the Prime Minister, as the supervisor and coordinator of government, to revoke the visa directive because it was erroneous in the first place.
He accused the Treasury for failing to reimburse the money lost as a result of the decision that took effect in April last year.
“It should have been for a specific period, due to the post-election violence, but it now looks open-ended,” he said.
Committee chairman Aden Keynan and members George Nyamweya and Benedict Gunda, said the decision was faulty and had to be rescinded, to allow the government to collect all revenue due to it.
The minister asked the committee to push for more funds to ensure it improves Kenya’s image abroad.
“If you go to other countries and you rent property (embassy and chancery), your prestige is lost,” said Mr Wetang’ula.
The committee also explored how Kenya can buy property to house its envoys, with guaranteed loans being explored. But this will require the approval of Parliament.
This followed revelations by the minister that their request for Sh400 million for chancery in Geneva, Sh150 million for one in Kampala, Sh786 million for one in New York and Sh300 million for one in Khartoum.
Even after Rwanda gave Kenya a 2.5 acre piece of prime land in Kigali, the minister said, Treasury had just allocated Sh200 million to build a chancery and start building a trade centre.
“If we own property, we save millions in rent,” he said.
The other option, the minister said, will be to take the Tanzanian route and have pension funds used to fund the building, then collect rent.
He told the House team that there were no ‘protocol cars’ to carry visiting dignitaries because “all the cars we have are junk and for security reasons we can’t keep on hiring vehicles.”
He added: “We have to go to State House and dispossess the President of his legitimate use of vehicles.”
The ministry had put in a Sh186 million request for new vehicles both in Nairobi and in Kenya’s missions abroad, but Treasury only allocated Sh31.7 million.
The Treasury, Mr Wetang’ula said, had promised to hand over some of the vehicles surrendered by ministers when the government bought the 1800cc VW Passats, but then this was not implemented.