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SRC, legislators cold war getting murkier

Sunday June 2 2019

Parliament

MPs inside the chambers at Parliament on February 12, 2019. PHOTO | FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SAMWEL OWINO
By SAMWEL OWINO
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The cold war between the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and Members of Parliament is getting murkier as lawmakers have now declined to approve the commission's budget for  new office space, travel and hiring of consultancy services.

MANOEUVRES

The Sunday Nation has learnt that the Finance and Planning Committee of the National Assembly is also considering suing the commission for “illegally” spending Sh99 million it used to buy new top-of-the-range vehicles for the commissioners.

The committee has failed to regularise the money that the commission spent under Article 223, which allows a government agency to spend money in case of an emergency even before approval by Parliament. The committee now wants to sue the commission for spending without authorisation.

The committee has also declined to give SRC money for new offices, hiring of professionals and travel.

The Budget and Appropriations Committee chaired by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa has concurred with the Finance Committee on budget cuts for the commission chaired by Ms Lyn Mengich.

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These behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, which aim  “to remind SRC who the boss is” come in the wake of the position taken by the commission on MPs awarding themselves Sh250,000 a month in house allowances.

The commission on Friday obtained temporary orders stopping the Parliamentary Service Commission from making any further payments of the controversial house allowances to MPs until the suit filed by the commission is heard and determined.

“The decision of the Parliamentary Service Commission to set and pay MPs a house allowance is antithetical to the rule of law. In addition, it contradicts the express and clear constitutional provisions in Article 230(4) (a) that empower SRC to set and review the remuneration and benefits of all State officers,” SRC stated in the petition filed before the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court.

REGULARISE

SRC claims Parliament misinterpreted the housing benefit extended to the President, Deputy President, Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate, the Chief justice, Deputy Chief Justice, county governors, county deputy governors and county assembly speakers.

“A housing benefit is the physical building/house that is provided by the government using taxpayers’ funds to house a State officer due to the unique nature of their work that requires hosting of State functions. These officers are not entitled to payment of house allowance. The costs of constructing and maintaining the house is borne from public coffers within the limits set by SRC. A house allowance on the other hand is paid as a cash benefit through the payroll. This benefit is available mostly to public officers whose pay is not consolidated,” SRC argues in the petition.

Activist Okiya Omtatah has also been allowed to serve all the 416 MPs through newspaper adverts. Mr Omtata also moved to court to challenge the decision by MPs to award themselves the housing allowance.

Regarding the revelation that MPs have declined to regularise the SRC expenditure, the commission’s chairperson Ms Mengich and her vice chairman Dalmas Otieno did not answer our calls or reply to our text messages.

Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi, who sits in the Finance Committee, confirmed to the Sunday Nation that the committee had declined to grant SRC the money they requested, saying they also rationalise the budgets of all institutions over which they provide oversight.

WITCH HUNT

“We looked at their budget objectively without being partisan and decided to rationalise the expenditures, just as we did with  other agencies,” Mr Atandi said.

Mr Atandi confirmed that the committee is also planning to sue SRC over their decision to spend Sh99 million to buy cars for the commissioners under the supplementary budget.

The money has already been spent and the commission was just looking for regularisation of the expenditure from the committee.

“These people are hypocrites. At one point they are criticising MPs for being greedy but here they are buying expensive cars for themselves,” Mr Atandi said.

Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu, who sits in the Budget Committee, said they had good grounds for reducing the SRC budget.

“We concurred with the Finance Committee since the grounds were strong,” Mr Mulu said.

Mr Mulu said the SRC budget cuts were not part of a witch-hunt triggered by the ongoing tussle over the Sh250,000 house allowance for the lawmakers.

EMOTIONS

An MP who sits in the Budget committee but wished not to be named said one of the reasons that SRC was being punished with the drastic budget cuts was that the commission purchased vehicles worth millions without parliamentary approval.

“There is a WhatsApp group run by MPs about the conduct of SRC and if push comes to shove, I wouldn’t be surprised if a member moves a constitutional motion to disband the commission,” he said.

National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi defended the committee for cutting the SRC budget.

Mr Mbadi, who also sits in the Budget Committee, said there was no justifiable reason to give SRC Sh300 million for new office space while there are many government offices that they can use.

“These things were done objectively but you can’t rule out people’s emotions. I cannot purport to talk on behalf of Parliament,” Mr Mbadi said.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said it is the work of the Budget Committee to spearhead budget-making in the National Assembly.

Additional reporting by Walter Menya and Wanjohi Githae