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President did the right thing to put legislators in their place

Saturday September 14 2019

gender rule

Members of Parliament debate the two-thirds gender rule bill on November 21, 2018. Kenyans are disenchanted with Parliament. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MAGESHA NGWIRI
By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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I’ve always told my friends that in my next life, I would like to be a legislator.

These people must surely be the happiest employees anywhere in the world, doing minimal work and always agitating for higher pay and perks and getting them because, they argue, they make the law.

This has allowed them to cultivate a bloated sense of entitlement and few are prepared to do their job unless it furthers their political careers.

As such, the phrase “servant leadership” is either non-existent in their vocabulary, or they regard it as a contradiction in terms.

A great deal has been said about the seemingly insatiable greed of the men and women we elect after every five years to represent us in governance and keep government in check.

The number of epithets hurled at these folk whenever they hatch yet another scheme to loot the public coffers are simply mind-boggling.

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PAY RISE

Even when they are reminded they are the highest-paid batch of legislators anywhere in the world after Nigerians, they always have ready arguments to bolster their case.

Many of these arguments are, of course, specious and counter-intuitive, but what do they care?

Most have grown quite a thick skin and heaps of insults in mainstream and social media do not faze them a bit.

After all, they seem to say, this money they seek does not belong to anybody’s mother; they have “worked hard” for it like other state officers in the Executive and the Judiciary.

It is not clear who the legislators, both in the National Assembly and the Senate, were trying to convince, but when they amended the Parliamentary Service Commission Bill, 2018 on July 4, President Uhuru Kenyatta was not impressed with their arguments and spoke loud and clear.

SRC MANDATE

On August 16, he vetoed the amended bill and sent it back to them with clear instructions to remove the sections that had been sneaked in.

Among those that had to go was one that allowed them to determine their pay and allowances without reference to anyone else.

The President was having none of it. As he indicated last year that he would never allow legislators to fix their own pay when a constitutional organ, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, was in place for just such purpose, he kept his word.

One thing the legislators seem to have forgotten is that the days when they purported to blackmail the President are long over.

Not only is he constitutionally ineligible to vie for the highest office again, he probably couldn’t care less about how unpopular he becomes among them.

His legacy doesn’t depend on them. In July this year, the Parliamentary Service Commission awarded the 349 MPs and 67 Senators Sh250,000 each in monthly house allowances and then backdated the hefty perk to November last year.

IMPUNITY

When the SRC challenged that award and even sought refunds from those who had already been paid, the MPs, led by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, went ballistic, wondering why the SRC was discriminating against them.

They even accused it of harbouring inexplicable hatred for them. Had they not been so immersed in themselves, they would have read the public mood and desisted from making such outrageous claims.

In the amended PSC Bill (2018(, they seek to eclipse the SRC in determining their own travel allowances.

They even want to be paid for meeting outside the precincts of Parliament, on top of the sitting allowances they get.

In short, they seem to regard the public coffers as a milch cow with an inexhaustible supply of the commodity.

Strangely, some have gone to the extent of saying the PSC is their employer and it has the right to look after their welfare the best way it knows how.

PUNGUZA MIZIGO

However, in so doing, the legislators are making three mistakes. First, the PSC is, actually, not their employer; the taxpayer is.

Second, the money they are so avidly after is not government money. It is the property of the taxpayer and government is just a trustee.

Third, the way it is set up, the majority in the PSC are legislators, including their chairman, the Speaker.

These people cannot be expected to question the validity of their own cause. Were my employer to ask me to set my own salary, you bet I would go for the highest figure possible. How come few see the potential for conflict of interest in such circumstances?

What is strange is that among the legislators are men and women who claim to be fighting for the poor.

If they go along with amendments that are, in essence, elitist and insensitive to the feelings of the poor, this becomes sheer hypocrisy.

If they had eyes, they would notice that the most popular proposal in the Punguza Mizigo referendum Bill is the one calling for a drastic reduction of their numbers.

Kenyans are disenchanted with Parliament, and they shudder at the thought of legislators playing a role in the selection of the future head of government.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor; [email protected]

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