How much money do MPs need?

Monday May 13 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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Every two to three years, our legislators demand more money from us. More often than not, they have their way. Which leaves me asking one question, just how much money does one need?
To understand the answer to this question, you must read Russian writer Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s (simply known by English speakers as Leo Tolstoy) story titled "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

This was the story of a peasant named Pahom who at the time used to boast that if he had enough land, he will not fear the devil. It later emerged that no matter how much land Pahom acquired, he was never truly happy.

One day he overheard his wife and sister argue about this land issue. Pahom decided to maintain his conviction on land and the devil.

The devil overheard his statement and decided to test him. And true to his belief, he bought more land from a lady who was selling her land. Things did not go well with his neighbours as his hunger for land was insatiable.

Determined to get more land, Pahom visited the Bakshirs, whose chief agreed to sell to him as much land as he could walk around in one day on condition that he returns to his starting point or the sale is cancelled. In his attempt to get as much land as possible, Pahom dies in the process.

I am not suggesting here that the MPs will literally die like Pahom in their attempt to get as much money as possible from tax payers. However, it is very likely that they will die metaphorically in 2022.

HUGE BURDEN

This is because in 2017, angry voters sent home 60 percent of the MPs from the 11th Parliament. The argument by trade unions that the MPs are justified in seeking more pay because they have a huge social burden of donating to citizens has no basis since the public will now demand even more from them following the salary increases.

What is more intriguing is the fact that the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) have wiggled themselves out of the purview of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

The commission was created to ''set and regularly review the remuneration and benefits of all state officers; and advise the National and County Governments on the remuneration and benefits of all other public officers.'' There is no exception for Parliament to undermine SRC which is supposed to be an independent institution yet they have managed to do precisely this, arguing that Parliament itself is an independent branch of government.

MPs have therefore audaciously removed themselves from the regulatory framework that was supposed to harmonise salaries and deal with the arbitrary misuse of powers that existed before.
Such disrespect will ultimately exert more pressure on the increasing recurrent expenditure, which now stands at twice the allocation for development.

Recurrent expenditure for the 2018/2019 financial year will amount to Sh1.55 trillion compared to the estimated development expenditure of Sh625 billion or 24 percent of total expenditure. The desirable threshold is 30 percent.

The counties will receive Sh376.4 billion over the same period. The tragedy is that much of the county allocation too will also end up as recurrent expenditure. Soon, other powerful groups like the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), doctors and lecturers union, as well as nurses and policemen will justifiably ask for more.

The reduction of development expenditure is as a result of escalating wage bill that also encourages the appetite of borrowing to meet development needs. This dependence on debt-finance has become a common practice so that in every supplementary budget, the MPs always raid development expenditure to increase recurrent spending. In effect, we are living beyond our means and MPs see no issue with that.

JERSEY MOVEMENT

The behaviour of MPs is akin to pre-French revolution when those in power failed to read the people’s mood. In the recent past, a group of young people started a low-key Red Jersey movement similar to the French Yellow Jersey drive.

Such protests cannot be written off in a country with more than 75 percent of the population aged below 30 years. They can see a ballooning debt that will be left for them to deal with.
In addition, the skewed expenditure that is geared to the aggrandisement of MPs undermines every opportunity. Short termism and selfish glorification of MPs who arm twist the law should be stopped by all means.

Prioritisation of universal healthcare, affordable housing, food security and manufacturing dictates that we abandon everything else, tighten our belts and ensure that the citizens of this country benefit from these policy interventions.

If there is anything that aught to be changed in the Constitution, it is the remuneration of legislatures to outlaw the nonsense of incessant salary increases. There is nowhere in the world where employees decide to increase their salary without consulting the employer.

Like Pahom, there isn’t a time when the MPs will ever be satisfied that they have enough money. The best approach is to use every legal means to stop them.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito