Members of Parliament are plotting to cripple the operations of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, which ordered them last month to refund hundreds of millions of shillings illegally paid out as house allowance.
Last April the MPs awarded themselves a Sh250,000 monthly house allowance, which will cost taxpayers Sh104 million every month, or Sh1.2 billion annually. The SRC has filed a case in court against the allowance, which, it says, is illegal and unconstitutional. It wants the MPs to refund about Sh700 million already paid out to them. The MPs, meanwhile, have vowed to fight for the perks in court and on the floor of Parliament through legislation.
In one of the most astounding revenge missions by Parliament in recent years, the MPs plan to amend the law and strip SRC bosses of their Sh1 million monthly perks.
To have their way against the commission, they are targeting the SRC Act, which they intend to amend so that commissioners are employed on a part-time rather than full-time basis.
Should they have their way, the current SRC commissioners will forfeit their monthly salaries and will be only entitled to a sitting allowance, which the lawmakers want pegged at Sh50,000 per session.
Section 4 (3) of the SRC Act, which the MPs want to amend, states that the chairperson and members of the commission serve on full-time basis. The duration of service of the 13-member commission is a non-renewable term of six years.
But, even before the proposals are tabled in Parliament, some of the cunning MPs are considering reviewing downwards the suggested Sh50,000 allowance for each sitting, which would make service as a commissioner in the SRC the lowest remunerated within the job group.
Part 1 of the second schedule of the SRC Act notes that the commission should have at least four meetings in every financial year, and that not more than four months should elapse between one meeting and the next. Should MPs amend the Act, therefore, commissioners will earn a maximum Sh200,000 annually, or Sh16,700 a month.
The pioneer SRC commissioners served on a part-time basis before MPs changed the law in April 2018 to have them serve full-time. The changes, brought in through the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill of 2017, were approved after the six-year term of the previous commission — chaired by Ms Sarah Serem, now Kenya’s envoy to China — ended in 2017.
In a concerted war against the commission, the MPs have also proposed to slash by Sh104 million the Sh600 million budget allocated to the commission in the next financial year, which begins on July 1 this year. They have also rejected the commission’s proposal that it be facilitated to acquire land to build its headquarters. The legislators say the idea is not feasible.
At the same time, the Finance and National Planning Committee of the National Assembly has declined to approve SRC’s Sh99 million supplementary budget request. The money was used to buy new cars for the 13 commissioners, and the committee, chaired by Kipkelion MP Joseph Limo, argued that SRC violated the Public Finance Management Act and the Constitution by incurring expenditure without a budget, and also without the Parliament’s approval.
The SRC cited Article 223 of the commission to legitimise the spending. The Article provides that the national government may spend money that has not been budgeted for on emergencies such as drought and floods, but must seek post-facto approval within two months of the expenditure.
The parliamentary committee wondered what was so urgent about the vehicles that the commission could not wait for the right approvals, and also why the commissioners could not inherit the vehicles used by the previous team.
The Budget and Appropriations Committee, chaired by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah, has adopted the recommendations of the Finance committee. This means the SRC expenditure automatically transforms into an audit query headed for Auditor-General Ed-ward Ouko’s desk.
Should violation of the law and Constitution be established, each commissioner is likely to be surcharged for the illegal expenditure, further piling pressure on the commission.
The SRC is at loggerheads with MPs following its decision to challenge the Sh250,000 monthly housing allowance the lawmakers awarded themselves.
The allowance, before taxation, was backdated to October 5, 2018, when High Court Judge Chacha Mwita ruled that all state offic-ers are entitled to a house or housing allowance provided by the State.
The case had been filed by a forum of deputy governors, who argued that they needed to be provided with a housing benefit.
MPs are also categorised as state officers, alongside the President, his Deputy, Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries, judges, heads of state corporations, members of constitutional commissions, as well as heads of independent offices.
MPs are incensed that the SRC did not appeal Justice Mwita’s ruling. Instead, it instructed all the 47 county governors to give their deputies a housing benefit.
During a joint Speakers’ meeting that brought together MPs and senators last Thursday, both Houses decided that the lawmakers won’t relinquish the allowance “even as SRC continues to make noise”.
“The issue of quantum is what should be the debate, not whether the MPs are entitled to a housing benefit or not because all the other state officers enjoy the same,” National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said.
To show their determined to keep the Sh250,000 monthly allowance, MPs have factored it in the Sh3.02 trillion budget estimates for 2019/20 currently before the National Assembly.
The estimates are expected to be approved on Wednesday before Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich reads the national Budget a day later.
The SRC has previously argued that it is the only state body constitutionally mandated to review the salaries and allowances of state and public officers as contained in a July 7, 2017 Gazette Notice.
Arguing against the tendency by MPs to award themselves lucrative perks, SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich says the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) “does not have the constitutional authority to determine any remuneration”.
The commission has filed a court case against the allowance, while social activist Okiya Omtatah has sued individual MPs on grounds that they violated the Constitution by pocketing the money.
During the joint House meeting last week, the MPs agreed to file an application in court so that Mr Omtatah’s matter is consolidated into one case. They also said their employer, the PSC, should hire lawyers to battle the case.
They also agreed not to approve SRC’s budget in legal fees related to its case against MPs.