Outrage and disappointment greeted Tuesday’s Nation exposé of plans by Members of Parliament to reinstate and increase allowances that had been scrapped by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
Civil society, religious, and consumer groups leaders termed the lawmakers’ move “insensitive, outrageous and ridiculous at best”, while Kenyans on social media used the hashtag #BureKabisa to protest the move, which they termed a manifestation of greed and a threat to future generations.
The condemnation came as National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi asked the SRC to come clean on the matter and tell the public the truth behind the disputed Sh250,000 monthly housing allowance for MPs.
Mr Muturi, also the chairman of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), which is in charge of MPs’ and parliamentary staff welfare, accused SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich of distorting facts around the MPs’ perks and setting them up against the public.
“The Attorney-General advised SRC to come to us (PSC) so that we can agree on the amount to be paid to the members, but the commission has never bothered. Why isn’t the commission telling Kenyans the truth?” Mr Muturi said from Tanzania, where he is on official duty. “We all know that the mandate to interpret the law is vested in the courts, which have spoken. The SRC has no otherwise but to implement the court ruling.”
He was referring to a Court of Appeal decision that allowed legislators to continue enjoying their current income pending the determination of an appeal filed by SRC.
Justices William Ouko, Asike Makhandia and Otieno Odek said although the appeal was arguable, there was nothing to show that the MPs would not be able to refund the monies paid, if the appeal succeeds.
The Judges said one of the key objectives in granting an order of stay is to preserve status quo pending hearing and determination of an intended appeal.
In a Gazette Notice published on July 7, 2017, SRC had, among other things, abolished the car grant, reduced the number of sitting allowances for plenary sessions, and also abolished reimbursable mileage allowance.
But Justice George Odunga of the High Court quashed the Gazette Notice, stating that there were procedural improprieties in its promulgation.
MPs had challenged the notice as unreasonable, arguing that SRC ignored relevant considerations and the law. They said the move was also discriminatory and malicious because it went against their legitimate expectations.
Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro said the new demands by MPs and threats to force their way to have the demands met border on recklessness and are ridiculous in the
eyes of the public.
He added that the MPs are not just becoming a threat to independent institutions, but are also ruining the lives of future generations.
“It’s like they live in another world separate from the rest of us. The demands are ridiculous and the legislators are now pushing Kenyans to the brink of a revolution. It’s time we stood up and said ‘enough is enough’,” he cautioned.
The bullish behaviour by the MPs, he said, is informed by the fact that they have connived to water down clauses on how they can be recalled.
“Most of them do not know the roles of an MP,” Mr Mutoro said. “Their roles do not require such kinds of allowances, but they have made their recall so difficult by amending the law.”
Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG) Presiding Convener Suba Churchill said the demands are a clear sign of how deep-rooted impunity is in the country, perpetuated by individuals in trusted positions of leadership.
He described the demands as insensitive given they’re coming at a time many Kenyans are battling inflation and high prices of commodities. “This is the time when they should be fighting for the common mwananchi but they have turned into dictators,” said Mr Churchill.
He said time was ripe for a fight to reduce the number of legislators and reflect on which system, whether parliamentary or presidential, would work best for the country.
“If this is a presidential system and the MPs have the audacity to make such demands; one shudders to think of what they would become in a parliamentary one,” he said.
The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) National chairman Yusuf Nzibo termed the move as “morally wrong” and against the wishes of Kenyans.
He appealed to the legislators to rethink their demands as the move is wrong and will not be accepted by religious leaders and the citizens.
Former Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale said some legislators live beyond their means, hence the regular push for more pay.
“They have a celebrity mentality,” Mr Khalwale said. “Instead of socialising in their regular joints, they start going to five-star restaurants once they are elected.”
Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo said he has never participated in a sitting that MPs called for a pay rise as that is the work of the Parliamentary Service Commission.
Speaking on NTV’s AM Live show, he said constant media reports that give a blanket condemnation on MPs are annoying and unfair.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot wondered what the media gains “after bastardising parliamentarians”.
“The only figure that is in dispute right now is the house allowance. If today a government worker went to Nakuru, they would be paid subsistence allowance.
“There is nothing that we have paid MPs that hasn’t been paid to other government employees,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
Mr Muturi said the Sh18,200 MPs are seeking as subsistence night allowance was approved by SRC and wondered why it had changed tune. He also faulted the commission for not doing proper studies across the globe, including benchmarking with the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU), to analyse MPs’ salaries.
“SRC should also come clear on what other state officers earn. The SRC Act talks about job evaluation, but they have done none. They are preoccupied with fighting MPs,” he said.
Car grants doubled
Should the MPs’ demands sail through, their salaries will be increased from the current Sh1.1 million to between Sh2.1 million and Sh2.9 million a month.
In a memorandum to the SRC, the lawmakers are seeking to have their car grants doubled from the current Sh5 million to Sh10 million. They also want an increase of their mortgage entitlements, to extend their medical cover to more than one spouse, and retain huge car maintenance and mileage allowances.
Should their demands for an increased car grant fail, the MPs have threatened to use taxpayers’ money to buy top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive vehicles for the 359 of them.
Reporting by David Mwere, Collins Omulo, Joseph Wangui and Anita Chepkoech