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State has the capacity to pay teachers

Thursday September 3 2015

Teachers celebrate with Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion outside the Supreme Court shortly after a ruling on their salary dispute with the Teachers Service Commission. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON

Teachers celebrate with Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion outside the Supreme Court shortly after a ruling on their salary dispute with the Teachers Service Commission. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP

WILSON SOSSION
By WILSON SOSSION
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Since the Supreme Court made a ruling recently that buttressed a salary award for teachers that had earlier been awarded by subordinate courts, the government has resorted to lies, distortions and misinformation to incite the public against teachers.

The first lie is that it cannot afford to pay the salary award that amounts to Sh17 billion as doing so will astronomically raise the cost of the public wage and force it to either increase taxes or stop capital development.

The truth is that it can. The problem is that it misuses funds, abets corruption and fails to collect all taxes.

And the evidence is there for all to see. First, the recently published Auditor-General’s report eloquently illustrated how a whopping Sh66.7 billion could not be accounted for. Instead of providing convincing accounts, the government unleashed its mercenaries to trash the report.

In a more poignant illustration of how the rot affects our sector, the report indicated that the Ministry of Education could not account for Sh12 billion, which is about 70 per cent of the money needed to pay teachers the new higher salaries.

But the lie becomes more glaring when one examines the level of tax evasion that takes place in the full knowledge of bigwigs at the Kenya Revenue Authority and within government. A recent report by the Tax Justice Network-Africa (TJN-A), showed that Kenya loses Sh639 billion every year due to tax evasion. The culprits are big multinationals, shrewd local business people, politicians and political-connected individuals and their associates.

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The whereabouts of the tax evaders is known but there is no will to pursue them. On the contrary, workers like teachers faithfully pay taxes, which are deducted at source, so they can’t default.

Another study commissioned by the Trade Unions Congress of Kenya, indicated that Sh137 billion was lost through evasion. This study was looking at only a segment of the taxable population and entities, meaning if the figure was extrapolated, it would be higher.

EVEN BETTER SALARIES

Therefore, we find it preposterous for National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and his principal secretary, Dr Kamau Thugge, to argue that the government cannot pay because it does not have the funds. Our position is that the government has the capacity to pay teachers even better salaries.

The second lie is that teachers have refused to be held accountable for their professional work since they are opposed to performance contracting. Legislator Mutava Musyimi, the current chairman of the parliamentary Budget Committee, publicly declared that teachers should not be paid the new salaries because they rejected performance contracting, and most of them are always absent from class anyway.

Two issues here: First, teachers have never rejected performance contracting; they have an existing contract with their employer, so they cannot be told to do another one unless the earlier is being annulled.

Second, unlike all other public sector workers, teachers’ performance is gauged every year by the national examinations. What better measure of performance does one need other than an external agency examining the product of your hands?

The second third lie is that teachers and their unions are insensitive. We fail to understand the basis for this narrative that is regularly touted by the Teachers Service Commission and others in government. Does one become uncaring by asking for his or her rightful entitlement – a decent salary and better terms of service?

MPs regularly increase their salaries at will. Members of county assemblies are ever milking money from the counties. Parastatal chiefs and other senior government officials enjoy numerous allowances, besides high salaries, yet nobody questions that. Where is equity in compensation for public workers when a section of them, teachers, are perennially underpaid?

Mr Sossion is Secretary-General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers.

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