Lawmakers may pay back millions of shillings in house allowances if the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) gets its way.
Through lawyer Peter Wanyama, the commission on Friday filed a petition seeking to stop further implementation of the allowances and the recovery of the monies so far paid to the legislators.
SRC is seeking an order directing the Clerks of the Senate and National Assembly “to recover from salaries and allowances paid to Members of Parliament (MPs) any allowance paid pursuant to the illegal and unconstitutional decision of the respondents to pay MPs house allowance outside the constitutional structure of Remuneration and Benefits of all State Officers in Parliament.”
In the alternative, SRC wants the court to hold personally members of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) and the secretary of the commission Jeremiah Nyegenye responsible for the payment of the illegal allowances to MPs.
Members of the PSC, all of whom have been listed as respondents are National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Dr Naomi Shaban, nominated senator Beth Mugo, Adan Keynan, Benson Momanyi, George Khaniri, Aisha Jumwa, Aaron Cheruiyot, Dr Lorna Mumelo, and Mr Nyegenye.
In the petition, SRC accuses the MPs of disregarding clear constitutional provisions that gives the commission sole mandate of setting salaries and allowances for state and public officers.
“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. Moreover, the decision violates the provisions of Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity,” the petition states.
Moreover, SRC claims that Parliament misinterpreted the housing benefit extended to President, Deputy President, Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate, the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Governors and their deputies, 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 their work that require 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.
MPs recently awarded themselves a Sh250,000 monthly housing allowance for each of the 416 MPs and was backdated to October 2018.
At that rate, SRC says the cost of keeping the legislators comfortable would result in the loss of public funds in excess of Sh99.5 million per month and Sh1.194 billion per year.
“PSC’s decision is a perverse exercise of State power that sets a dangerous precedent in the management of public funds,” the petitioner argues.
Currently, MPs are well remunerated, states SRC and their remuneration comprises a consolidated salary as well as numerous benefits.
MPs are entitled to a weekly mileage allowance of Sh109 per kilometre for as many as 750 kilometres per week and 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."
According to Gazette Notice No. 6517 of July 7, 2017, onRemuneration and Benefits for State Officers in the Senate and the National Assembly MPs are paid committee sitting allowances of Sh5,000 for ordinary members and Sh8,000 for committee chairman per sitting.
They also enjoy inpatient and outpatient medical covers of Sh10 million and Sh300,000 respectively, car loan up to Sh7 million, mortgage benefit up to Sh20 million, monthly airtime of Sh15,000 and security.
At the end of their terms, they also get paid gratuity at the rate of 60 percent of the monthly gross remuneration package.
In the suit, SRC states that there is an urgent need to freeze further payments of the “problematic and unconstitutional house allowance” from the Consolidated Fund pending the hearing and determination of the petition.
“Unless this court intervenes by issuing appropriate orders, the public stands to suffer irreparable damage that cannot be compensated by damages,” SRC stated in its pleadings.