Recent media reports on salary increments for some senior public officers and the push by some organs both at the county and national government to enact Bills to either enhance retirement packages and/or provide send-off packages to state officers are a source of concern to many Kenyans.
Parliament approved a pension plan for former MPs, who served between 1984 and 2002, that could cost the taxpayer at least Sh2.9 billion.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission is also aware that Sh3.3 billion has been set aside for severance payment for eight months for the current legislators.
The pay being claimed is for the period between August 8, when the General Election will be held, and March 2018, when the MPs claim their five-year term ought to end.
More so, some counties have, in the recent past, passed Bills giving benefits to some State officers.
These developments clearly go against the Constitution.
Indeed, the issue of setting salaries and allowances for State officers is solely the mandate of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.
The commission derives its mandate from the Constitution under Article 230 (4): to set and review salaries of all State officers, ranging from the President, governors, senators, and MPs, to MCAs and constitutional office holders.
This mandate is linked to the principles outlined in Article 230 (5) of which the affordability and sustainability are key.
Also, the SRC is expected to promote constitutionalism and act as an independent and neutral body among other objects as stipulated under Article 249.
In 2013, the commission set the State Officers’ salaries and benefits and advised on implementation.
A State Officer who does not qualify for payment of pension may be considered for a service gratuity at the rate of 31 per cent of the basic pay.
A State Officer entitled to a pension cannot be paid a gratuity, as this would amount to double benefit from the same employer and would be in total violation of the employment laws.
Any attempt by public office holders to pay themselves more under the guise of send-off packages will violate the provisions of Chapter Six of the Constitution.
We need to tread carefully. Such schemes, besides being against the law, often set the tone for similar demands by other public officers, leading to an additional cost to the Consolidated Fund, a situation that can lead to civil unrest and economic meltdown.
We have adopted an open-door policy where both State and public officers and other stakeholders are at liberty to air their grievances, but on the basis that the mandate of the commission is respected.
Indeed, the framers of the Constitution did not envisage that there would emerge a situation where any other State organ arrogates itself powers to undertake pay or benefit reviews.
Does each institution want to set its own salaries and benefits?
If each one of us were to determine our own pay, how much would we pay ourselves?
The statement of national values captured in Article 10 of the Constitution has placed such a high premium on integrity, transparency and accountability in public life and institutions.
The values and principles of governance bind all State Organs, State Officers, Public Officers and all persons whenever any of them:
(a) Applies or interprets this Constitution;
(b) Enacts, applies or interprets any law; or
(c) Makes or implements public policy decisions.
Article 226(5) provides that a holder of public office cannot direct the use of public funds contrary to the law thus:
“If the holder of a public office, including political office, directs or approves the use of public funds contrary to law or instructions, the person is liable for any loss arising from that use and shall make good the loss whether the person remains the holder of the office or not.”
The plot by elected leaders to award themselves hefty send-off packages has created a lot of anxiety, fears and tension amongst the populace.
All this is happening in the wake of drought and famine, insecurity, and heightened political situation among other challenges.
Besides, the government is spending about 50 per cent of its total revenue on the public sector wage bill at the expense of development.
The SRC will continue to play its role and do whatever it takes to promote constitutionalism as per Article 249 of the Constitution while protecting the interests of Wanjiku without fear or favour.
Ms Serem is the chairperson of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission