Hopes for MPs getting higher pay have been dimmed after President Kenyatta sent a strong message that the current wage bill was unsustainable.
The President told the two joint Houses of Parliament on Tuesday that the public wage bill must now be kept in check as it has reached unsustainable levels and threatens to gobble up development funds.
All arms of government should lead the way in keeping the wage bill in check as a result, he said.
“Our focus both as the Executive and the Legislature must be on reducing the cost of living and making Kenya much more competitive, thereby increasing opportunities while improving the standards of living,” Mr Kenyatta said while presiding over the State opening of the 11th Parliament.
He told Senators and MPs that reducing the cost of living and raising Kenyans’ living standards would be the “centrepiece’’ of his government.
Members of the National Assembly are currently agitating for a raise of their Sh532,000 salary. They have asked the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to revert to the Sh851,000 pay given to members of the 10th Parliament, arguing that the current pay was too little for an MP. If it reverts to the rate the last Parliament earned, they will not seek a raise till the economy improves, they said.
Some MPs have threatened to boycott government business in the House, including the vetting of Cabinet Secretaries and passing of crucial laws until their demands are met. They also indicated at the weekend that they intend to change the law that classifies MPs as State Officers
The salaries commission, chaired by Mrs Sarah Serem, had also proposed that all allowances paid to State Officers — including MPs — be taxed.
On Tuesday, Mrs Serem welcomed the President’s stand that the current wage bill was too high. Speaking on the sidelines of a reception Parliament hosted after the opening, she said her outfit would stand by the position that salaries should not be raised for now.
Earlier in his 40-minute speech in which he stressed the government’s intention to implement the Jubilee manifesto to the letter and within the stated timelines, the President said that the wage bill at about Sh458 billion this year was squeezing out resources meant for development.
“This wage bill at slightly above 12 per cent of our GDP is well above the internationally accepted standard of seven per cent and accounts for almost half of the revenue collected by government. This is unsustainable and poses a threat to the funding of important development projects and has the potential to severely affect the country’s economic prospects,’’ he told Parliament.
His government, he said, had set its eyes on transforming the economy to drive growth and create jobs for the youth and lift ordinary Kenyans’ living standards in five years.
He hinted Jubilee would rejig the ministries and the entire government to make it leaner and modern to curb waste.
Mr Kenyatta welcomed members of both Houses to check his government and keep it on its toes so as to deliver Jubilee pledges to the nation. The work, he said, would be built on nine pillars.
“We will build an honest and transparent government with public services that are open and accountable to the people who use them; supporting the counties to deliver on the promises of devolution.” They would work with the Judiciary to speed up and deepen reforms that are in progress, strength the criminal justice system and promote the rule of law.
President Kenyatta also pledged to “act swiftly” to end graft, which, he said, makes the country look unattractive as an investment destination.
He appealed to Parliament to put in place measures that would strengthen the police service so that the nation can afford members of the force the dignity they deserve.
“In view of this, we will properly equip each police unit in order to increase effectiveness and ensure their rapid response to incidents of crime,’’ the President said.
The youth and women funds will be harmonised to ensure they are easily accessible at constituency levels.
Mr Kenyatta said they would deliver on the free laptops pledge for Standard One pupils from next January.