Economic experts believe the government can honour and sustain the 50-60 per cent pay rise the courts have awarded teachers.
Economist David Ndii, former Planning minister Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Institute of Economic Affairs chief executive Kwame Owino, former Assistant Minister and ex-World Bank employee Ndiritu Muriithi and Dr Samwel Onyuma, of Laikipia University, said the government should pay the teachers.
They said the government was insincere in claiming that it could not raise the Sh17 billion the teachers are demanding.
Prof Nyong’o said: “The government can, and should re-examine its budget and redirect money allocated to other areas, for instance, what was allocated to the special programmes fund. We can also forget about the laptops and pay the teachers. It is no longer can’t pay, won’t pay chorus, this is a court order and everything else to the contrary is disobeying our Constitution.”
Alternatively, the Kisumu Senator said, the government could negotiate with the teachers to stagger the pay award.
“Negotiate with the teachers to pay 20 per cent this month, and add 10 per cent each month till we hit the target. Don’t take a hard stance when it is you (government) who took them to court,” he said.
Dr Onyuma, who has been keenly following the Treasury Bills and Bonds, said the government could get raise the money.
“All the government needs to do today is announce a Treasury bond, and believe you me, Kenyans will buy them. There is a lot of money out there and with a good interest rate and the riskless nature of these transactions, Kenyans will be glad to invest in the future of their children. Just give them the chance,” said Dr Onyuma, who has also written accounting books.
Dr Ndii and Mr Muriithi said it was all about government choices. They said the government stance on the teachers’ strike was wrong.
The economists questioned the allocation of Sh45 billion to the National Youth Service, money they said should be used to pay the teachers.
It did not help matters as the teachers’ demands came after Devolution CS Anne Waiguru revealed the NYS had lost Sh791 million to corruption, they added.
“If you ask me if it’s a right choice to use Sh45 billion to pay 10,000 youths or so to slash grass, but lack Sh17 billion to cater for the future of close to 12 million school children, I would say it is not,” said Mr Muriithi, who worked for the World Bank, before being elected as the Laikipia West MP in 2007.
Said Dr Ndii: “We are collecting well over a trillion shillings, yet we have trouble finding Sh17 billion to pay teachers. Even worse, we did not think twice before borrowing twenty times that amount to build (the Sh300 billion Standard Gauge Railway) next to another one.”
Apart from raising the wage bill to about 60 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, it has been argued the salary award will also distort harmonisation of salaries in the civil service.
“The wage bill debate is never here nor there. In 2003, when I worked for the World Bank negotiating with the Kenyan Government, the wage bill was its biggest concern. The government needs to sort out its productivity issues and the wage bill will never be an issue,” argued Mr Muriithi.
Institute of Economic Affairs chief executive Owino said: “There are no easy solutions at hand since it was not anticipated during Parliament’s deliberation on the Budget. Parliament will have to consider an early supplementary budget to accommodate the court order.”
Teachers have been on strike for the past three weeks and they have vowed not to return to class until the money is paid.
On Thursday, secondary school teachers asked Parliament to reconvene and pass a supplementary budget to pay them.
The proposal came just two days after National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said the three arms of government should be made to ‘donate’ funds to the teachers’ kitty.
But President Kenyatta, the Teachers Service Commission and Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi have maintained that the government does not have money.
They have argued that paying teachers will mean that all other civil servants will have to have their salaries raised and the country can ill afford to spend 60 per cent of its income on salaries.
Sunday Nation columnist and economist Mungai Kihanya said government’s argument that it does not have money to pay teachers is not satisfactory.
“I am also surprised that this Sh17 billion increment was not captured as a contingent liability in the budget, given that the salary dispute was already in court at the beginning of the year,” he said.
Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Nduma Nderi, in June, ruled that the teachers be paid promptly and the pay be backdated to 2013.
The TSC appealed against the ruling. However, the Court of Appeal ordered the commission to pay the teachers the increased salaries. The highest court in the land argued that it has no jurisdiction to stop an order by the Court of Appeal. It later sent the litigants back to the Court of Appeal and consequently asked them to obey its orders.
But President Kenyatta said the courts could not force him to pay what the government does not have.