MPs are headed for a major showdown with the Executive this week after they vowed to force through a controversial bill seeking to improve their perks despite tacit opposition from President Uhuru Kenyatta and the general public.
Several MPs who spoke to the Sunday Nation revealed elaborate plans to ensure the Parliamentary Service Commission Bill, 2018 sails through despite growing public condemnation over its burden to the taxpayer.
President Kenyatta has made clear his opposition to the bill, terming it an unnecessary burden to the ordinary Kenyan, prompting fears among parliamentarians that he may not assent to it if it is passed.
MPs who spoke to the Sunday Nation said they will mobilise legislators to pass the bill notwithstanding President Kenyatta’s opposition and the public mood.
Should the President refuse to assent to the bill, they will mobilise two-thirds of the entire House membership to pass it the second time, upon which it will become law automatically, they revealed.
“The parliamentary leadership, including that of the Senate, will retreat to propose more amendments to the bill before its passage. We need to have a commission that oversees the value system among the MPs and the staff.
"It is only Parliament that has not legislated its own commission compared to the Judiciary that has Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Executive that has Public Service Commission (PSC),” National Assembly Majority Aden Duale said.
The bill seeks to enhance the legislators’ perks, including house allowance, car loans, enhanced insurance cover, and a special kitty in each of the 290 constituencies for monitoring and evaluation of national government projects.
Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali told the Sunday Nation that what MPs are demanding is a right that all other employees in other sectors of employment are also enjoying.
“This is a bill about which MPs will not listen to their leaders. It is important for MPs to express their mind freely on this one,” Mr Washiali said.
“It is a right of every employee to be housed by the employer and MPs are no exception. Let us not make it look like all the clauses are bad,” he said, throwing a rare warning to party leaders to spare the MPs further anguish and not dictate on what to do but just try to convince them.
Mr Washiali rejected insinuations that MPs are using the bill as a secret weapon and to leverage the passing of the two-thirds gender bill.
“I can tell you there is nothing like that. On gender bill, we deferred the vote because we did not want to fail like the last two occasions. Once bitten twice shy, and therefore as the House leadership we will try to massage the ego of members until they are convinced,” Mr Washiali said.
Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi said the passage of the bill will not be an act of defiance to their party leaders but just a move to tame Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which he claimed has unfairly reduced allowances of MPs.
“The bill will be passed with the people that will be there, those opposing it have been doing so based on misinformation by the media. We are not increasing our salaries as has been made to appear,” Mr Atandi said.
Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki said they will pass the bill because of its own merits and not as an act of defiance to the President.
Mr Mbiuki, who is also the chairman of Environment committee, said that SRC is a constitutional commission just like Parliamentary Service Commission and should therefore have no role in determining their benefits.
“We will pass it and the President will use his own wisdom to either reject it or assent to it. Should he reject it, then I will support my party leader based on the reasons he will give in the memorandum,” Mr Mbiuki said, indicating there is no official position of the President over the bill so far. "He has been relying on media reports which are misleading,” he added.
Currently, a 390-strong team comprising MPs, senators and parliamentary staff are pocketing up to Sh80,000 per day in allowances to participate in the annual East African Legislative Assemblies (Eala) Games which kicked off in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Friday, all at the expense of the taxpayer.
The Sh400 million budget for the games, which was approved by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, caters for air tickets, food, accommodation, entertainment and allowances for the lawmakers and the staff.
On Saturday, MPs were eagerly waiting for the outcome of the case they have filed in the High Court seeking orders to quash a SRC Gazette notice that reduced their sitting allowances, among other benefits.
In the petition filed in the High Court last December, PSC accuses SRC of encroaching on its constitutional mandate and seeking to cripple the 12th Parliament.
The Gazette notice, published on July 7 last year, abolished MPs’ car grants, reduced sitting allowances and also scrapped reimbursable mileage allowance.
Signs of the looming showdown were on display on Wednesday when some ODM MPs stormed out of the chambers moments after opposition leader Raila Odinga arrived to offer moral support to the gender bill.
The MPs silently protested that they were not “small children to be guided on how to vote”.
“We have no apologies to make on this bill. The President will have to sign it into law or we shall ensure that we mobilise to the last man to overturn his memorandum,” a Jubilee MP told the Sunday Nation on Friday.
The bill has already sailed through the second reading and comes before the Committee of the Whole (third reading) either on Wednesday or Thursday after Tuesday’s court judgment.
The MPs will consider amendments and vote. Being an ordinary bill, it merely requires a simple majority to sail through.
However, details on its fate will emerge if the President rejects it and returns it to the House with a memorandum of objections.
This will require MPs to raise a two-thirds majority to throw out the presidential objections.
With just a week to the long Christmas recess, it is likely the fight on the bill will spill over to next year, particularly in February when the House returns from the recess. But the MPs are not taking matters lying down.
Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said lawmakers at the moment are disadvantaged compared to Cabinet secretaries, chief administrative secretaries and other civil servants whom, he added, are given houses by the government.
“Why should MPs be denied their rights and privileges; there should be no preferential treatment,” Mr Amisi said.
The members also said they would not relent in their push for the government to cater for their shelter by housing them or paying house allowance despite enjoying a mortgage of up to Sh20 million.
The mortgage has one of the most attractive repayment terms in the country — three percent interest rate — but must be settled at the end of an MP’s five-year term.
A majority of MPs argued that they want to be accorded similar treatment given to Cabinet secretaries and judges, who have car loans, car grants and official cars as well as mortgage and official residences.
The perks are some of the provisions contained in the controversial clause introduced in the bill.
All 416 MPs, Speakers of both Houses and majority leaders in both chambers will each be provided with a rent-free house, a government vehicle, an expanded medical cover, travel allowances and an expanded constituency outreach operation, if the new bill becomes law.
Eldas MP Adan Keynan on Tuesday urged colleagues to ensure that the bill sails through since “Parliament is the first arm of government”.
Mr Keynan, who spoke passionately about the bill, urged his colleagues not to feel ashamed, saying that they have no apologies to make over the demands.
On medical insurance, they want the scope expanded to cover more than one spouse and more than four children.
The ordinary one requires members to top up premiums if they want the number of beneficiaries or coverage to increase.
According to the SRC Gazette notice of July 2017, MPs are entitled to a monthly salary of Sh1.2 million, inclusive of allowances.
The house allowance being sought is on top of the Sh20 million mortgage facility that each MPs gets, and which is subject to an interest rate of three percent per annum that must be fully paid by the end of the five-year term.
They also want government-maintained-and-fuelled cars and car loans on top of their mileage allowances and Sh7 million car grants.
MPs argue this will put them at par with judges and Cabinet secretaries.
It is the same National Assembly that last week voted to endorse a report of its Powers and Privileges Committee recommending that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations investigate MPs who accused their colleagues of taking bribes to shoot down the report on irregular importation of sugar.
In a clear case of the hunter becoming the hunted, the MPs who outed their corrupt colleagues for receiving bribes of as low as Sh10,000 will now have gruelling sessions with the investigative agencies, notwithstanding that the claims were largely true and that the passage of the report would have had a positive impact on the lives and the health of Kenyans.
The joint report of the committees on Trade, Industry and Co-operatives and that of Agriculture and Livestock established that the sugar consumed in some parts of the country was poisonous as it contained elements of poisonous heavy metals — mercury, copper and lead, among others.
Endebess MP Robert Pukose, who was mentioned as one of the people dishing out money to defeat the report, is the one who moved to amend the report to ensure that those who made the claims are probed by the state agencies.
Similarly, the decision by senators to reject the report on the possible loss of Sh1.5 billion in the acquisition of the controversial Ruaraka land for use by two public schools split members sharply, with a section accusing their colleagues of condoning corruption.
Governance expert Barasa Nyukuri accused MPs of abusing their positions to pursue selfish interests instead of serving Kenyans.
“Oversight has been used as an overdrive mechanism to extort, horse trade and peddle influence. We are yet to realise representative democracy,” Mr Nyukuri said.
More than a year since their swearing-in, a majority of MPs are yet to make their maiden speeches.