A long list of demands by MPs in a memorandum to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) recently seen by the media shows that legislators are not in touch with the tough economic times prevailing in the country.
In the memorandum, the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) opposes an attempt to review their sitting allowances and terms it as unfair labour practice, saying “the rate is fiscally sustainable, particularly taking into account the fact that the economy has grown in the last five years.”
This, despite the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics economic growth and employment data in the past six years depicting a jobless growth. Besides, in the last six years, real average monthly earnings have stagnated between Sh30,000 and Sh31,000.
With a huge public wage bill, high cost of living and a wide socio-economic gap, there is little justification in sustaining such a lucrative package for State and public officers.
Parliament has also complained that the move to review their salaries was unfair since “persons interested in becoming Members of Parliament had already started their campaigns with the knowledge of the then current remuneration structure” and so they “legitimately expected to be paid remuneration, at the very least, at the current levels.”
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This implies that the promise of a fat salary is usually the big motivation in the parliamentary race. Regardless, the remuneration package that would apply in the 12th Parliament was gazetted before the General Election, on July 7, 2017, and each aspirant must have known what they were signing up for.
But even more insulting to their employer, the taxpayer, than the opulence associated with their demands are their reasons for wanting more and the language in which they are crafted.
In demanding that lawmakers’ medical covers be reviewed to include five children, from the current four, two spouse, from the current one, the PSC says that the inclusion of just one spouse “has led to incidents of marital strife.” The commission appears to suggest that some legislators’ spouses left out of their spouses’ medical packages in polygamous marriages have thrown tantrums and at times wreaked havoc, hence making the member perform dismally in his or her official duties.
A taxpayer not finding this as simply laughable probably wonders how, if the demand is heeded, the honourable members who wander further in the polygamy path and end up with a few more spouses are cushioned from such family strife.
MPs are a part of the nearly 20 percent of Kenyans that, according to the 2015/2016 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey, have a health cover. They belong to an even smaller group (six percent) whose employers contribute to their health cover.
For Kenyans fortunate to have a medical cover, limitations such as the number of family members that can be covered are normal and not a unique inconvenience to MPs.
More cash for bigger cars
Legislators also want their car grant doubled to Sh10 million from the current Sh5 million (not paid back), the reason being that it is not sufficient to buy a suitable car “that can withstand the rigours” of the lawmakers’ movement in their constituencies and around the country. Also given as justifications are the claims that the grant is taxable and that Kenya is in the process of banning the importation of motor vehicles of more than three years of age.
The claim of an impending policy change in car importation no longer holds. A move by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives to introduce an age limit of five years by July this year and three years by 2021 resulted in a long period of push-and-pull between the ministry and motor vehicle importers and on May 7, during a sitting with the National Assembly’s Trade Committee, CS Peter Munya said the policy would be put on hold for one year because it had not gone through public participation and approval by Parliament. Even if it went through, the three-year cap, which would make imported second hand cars cost a lot more, would have come into effect towards the end of the 12th Parliament, long after MPs would have bought the cars in question.
While generally the quality of Kenyan roads has improved a great deal in the last decade or so, it is true that many interior parts of the country are still difficult to access, especially during the rainy seasons. It is, however, lost on parliamentarians that that is a challenge faced by most Kenyans, including public servants who use much less powerful cars, motorbikes, or even those getting to work on foot. Like many of their demands, this exposes their attitude of entitlement and privilege.
In the memorandum, Parliament threatens that if their push for more cash for bigger cars is frustrated, they would buy a car for each lawmaker, and, these being government vehicles, fuel and maintain them and thereafter hire drivers and transport managers, a move that would pinch the taxpayer even harder.
MPs also have a car loan of Sh8 million, which they have warned the SRC not to reduce to Sh7 million as it had earlier attempted.
In the memorandum, Parliament says that, in the 2018/19 budget, it allocated funds to pay legislators Sh250,000 a month to enable them to “rent a house in a location befitting a Member of Parliament”. It is not clear how the commission arrived at this figure, but according to a Newsplex online search of popular property sites, Sh150,000 to Sh200,000 would get a client not keen on grandeur a three-bedroom house in middle and upper middle-class neighbourhoods such as Kitisuru, Kileleshwa and Karen from where one can easily access Parliament.
The PSC argued in the letter to SRC that sitting allowances “motivate Members of Parliament to attend plenary sessions and participate in debate” and that plenary discussion “spurs economic growth” and therefore such allowances are “a small price for the country to pay”.
While attendance helps achieve quorum, it does not necessarily translate to active participation by members, as past reports on participation by MPs in the House have shown. According to the First Score Card for the 12th Parliament, released on June 20 by Mzalendo Trust, a non-partisan project, 16 MPs and senators did not speak on the floor of the House between September 2017 and December 2018.
The memorandum reads like a rant by a dissatisfied employee just about to deliver a resignation letter. However, the irony is that any of these members would, to borrow the immortalised words of former Finance minister Amos Kimunya’s, in the heat of the Grand Regency Hotel scandal, “would rather die than resign”.