The Salaries and Remuneration Commission on Friday obtained interim orders stopping the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) from further paying MPs Sh250,000 monthly house allowance.
An inter-partes hearing has been set for Friday as the commission moves to reverse the power by lawmakers to award themselves up to Sh3 million annually in additional allowances.
Through its lawyer Peter Wanyama, the commission filed the petition at the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court seeking to stop further implementation of the house allowance and the recovery of the money paid to the MPs so far.
The SRC is seeking an order directing the clerks of the Senate and National Assembly “to recover from...MPs any allowance paid pursuant to the illegal and unconstitutional decision of the respondents to pay house allowance outside the constitutional structure of remuneration and benefits of State officers in Parliament”.
In the alternative, the commission wants the court to hold personally members of the PSC and secretary of the commission Jeremiah Nyegenye responsible for the payment of the allowances to MPs.
“An order be issued directing the third and twelfth respondents to personally pay to the Consolidated Fund house allowances given to MPs pursuant to the illegal and unconstitutional decision,” the petition says.
The PSC members, all of whom have been listed as respondents, are National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, MPs Naomi Shaban (Taveta), Adan Keynan (Eldas), Benson Momanyi (Borabu), Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), senators George Khaniri (Vihiga), Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), PSC commissioner Lorna Mumelo and Mr Nyegenye.
In its pleading for temporary stay orders, SRC said there is an urgent need to freeze more payments of the “problematic and unconstitutional house allowance” from the Consolidated Fund, pending the hearing and determination of the case.
“Unless this court intervenes by issuing appropriate orders, the public stands to suffer irreparable damage,” SRC said.
The commission accuses lawmakers of disregarding constitutional provisions that give it the sole mandate of setting salaries and allowances for State and public officers.
“The decision of the PSC 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 the SRC to set and review the remuneration and benefits of State officers.
"Moreover, the decision violates the provisions of Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity,” the petition goes on.
The commission says Parliament misinterpreted the housing benefit extended to the President, Deputy President, Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate, the Chief justice, Deputy Chief Justice, governors, deputy governors and speakers of county assemblies.
“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 his or her work that requires hosting of State functions,” SRC continues to argue in the petition.
“These officers are not entitled to house allowance. The costs of constructing and maintaining the house is borne from public coffers within the limits set by the commission.
"A house allowance, on the other hand, is given as a cash benefit through the payroll. This benefit is available mostly to public officers whose pay is not consolidated.”
MPs recently awarded themselves a Sh250,000 monthly housing allowances backdated to October last year. The country has 416 lawmakers.
The commission says at this rate, the cost of keeping the lawmakers comfortable would result in the loss of more than Sh99.5 million per month and Sh1.194 billion annually.
“The decision by PSC is a perverse exercise of State power that sets a dangerous precedent in the management of public funds,” the petition goes on.
According to the commission, lawmakers are well remunerated. It says the MPs’ remuneration comprises a consolidated salary as well as numerous benefits.
MPs are entitled to a mileage allowance of Sh109 per kilometre for as many as 750 kilometres per week.
They get a monthly car maintenance allowance of Sh356,525. “They also receive a generous medical allowance for themselves, their spouses and as many as four children under 25 years.
"Other allowances include airtime, group life and personal accident cover, travel and notably, allowances for attending Parliament and sitting in committees,” the commission adds.
According to Gazette Notice 6,517 of July 7, 2017 on remuneration and benefits for State officers in the Senate and National Assembly, lawmakers are paid committee sitting allowances of Sh5,000 for ordinary members and Sh8,000 for chairpersons per sitting.
They also enjoy inpatient and outpatient medical covers of Sh10 million and Sh300,000 respectively, car loans of up to Sh7 million, mortgage benefit of up to Sh20 million, monthly airtime of Sh15,000 and security.
At the end of their terms, they get paid gratuity at the rate of 60 per cent of the monthly gross remuneration package.