Kenya: Unfazed by dented economy, MPs battle to preserve their salaries

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Tuesday, 4 October 2022 18:04

Kenyan Parliament on 29 September 2022 (photo twitter: @AnneWaiguru)

Before Kenya’s 13th parliament gets down to business, over 400 newly-elected legislators have put up a fight over their earnings, shrugging off the East African country’s sinking economy. Was their electoral promise to put service before self a load of hot air?

On 19 September, Speaker Moses Wetangula arrived half an-hour late for the opening ceremony of the week-long induction course for new MPs at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi.

“Sorry I am late. I was in a meeting with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission [SRC] officers about our salaries and allowances, which need to be resolved urgently,” said Wetangula, whose words were met with lawmakers’ applause.

The SRC, which is mandated to help manage the public wage bill, abolished some of their allowances in July, following a detailed review of the remuneration and benefits allocated to state officers.

“Things will be ok. We live incrementally and not by reduction. Nobody in their right frame of mind will interfere with your car allowances, mileage reimbursements, and mortgage because that is your entitlement,” said Wetangula, who promised the lawmakers a session with SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich.

Currently, an MP in Kenya earns a gross monthly salary of KSh710,000 ($5,875), which comprises KSh426,000 ($3,528) basic pay, KSh150,000 ($1,241) house allowance, KSh134,000 ($1,110) salary market adjustment, mileage allowance, car maintenance allowance, and an array of other benefits that push their total earnings to more than Ksh1m ($8,278).

They are also entitled to a vehicle reimbursement of KSh7.5m ($62,112) when they purchase a car not exceeding 3000cc and a mortgage not exceeding KSh35m ($289,855). This makes the country’s 416 MPs among the highest paid legislators not only in Africa, but in the world.

Encounter with SRC chairperson

A day later, legislators harangued Mengich during a closed-door meeting, accusing her of sabotaging their role as citizens’ representatives.

“The legislators demanded reinstatement of their KSh5000 [$41.37] sitting allowance for every plenary session, and a car grant, which entitles every MP to a brand new car at the start of every parliament,” says an SRC official who was present at the meeting.

The source, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, says the legislators threatened to reduce the SRC’s budget if their demands are not met.

“One of the MPs reminded us that they have the yam [the budget] and the knife to divide it, warning of dire consequences if the commission continues to be obstinate,” says the source.

However, Mengich stood her ground, reiterating that the sitting allowance had been included in the MPs’ consolidated pay, which stands at KSh710,000 ($5,875).

Tug-of-war over perks

The legislators were also unhappy with the commission’s decision to split their administrative allowance, which was set at KSh284,000 ($2,350) during the tenure of the previous parliament.

They said the SRC divided their administrative pay into a house allowance of KSh150,000 ($1,241), and a KSh134,000 ($1,110) salary market adjustment. The modification takes into account market positioning, as well as constitutional and statutory principles, on review of remuneration and benefits of public officers.

I am very disappointed to have woken up early in the morning to queue to vote for individuals whose only objective was to go to parliament to make money

What’s more, the legislators were irked by Mengich’s decision to cap vehicle capacity to 3000cc, insisting that they should be allowed to opt for more powerful engines.

The commission has rejected the demand, but said it will push up the mileage allowance. The MPs are calling for the reinstatement of the previous mileage rate of KSh187.5 ($1.55) per km instead of the KSh119 ($1) gazetted by the SRC in its latest review.

Public anger

The lawmakers’ demands have stirred public anger as Kenyans struggle to make ends meet amid growing economic hardships.

A greater percentage of the 54-million population is unable to afford basic necessities, such as food, housing, energy and transport, as a biting drought has left more than 3 million Kenyans in dire need of humanitarian aid.

“I am very disappointed to have woken up early in the morning to queue to vote for individuals whose only objective was to go to parliament to make money,” says John Jairo, a bus driver residing in Nairobi.

Festus Kiragu, from Kiambu county, says if the legislators continue with their greed, Kenyans ought to call them out. “We need to hold demonstrations in front of parliament to send a clear message to our greedy MPs that it will not be business as usual.”

In 2013, not only did lawmakers defy calls to reduce their hefty pay, they voted to increase their perks to about $10,000 a month. The package also guaranteed them an armed bodyguard, a diplomatic passport, and access to airport VIP lounges. This was after the SRC had recommended that their salaries be pegged at around $6,300.

The move at the time angered civil rights activists who demonstrated in the capital, releasing dozens of pigs in front of parliament building, an intended emblem of the MPs’ greed.

Punching bag?

Belgut MP Nelson Koech says the SRC is fond of using the parliament as a punching bag whenever it wants to reduce salaries of public servants, or “experiment with the so-called salary reviews”.

“The salary package [the] SRC is changing are the ones we approved in the 12th parliament in 2017. The per diems they are scrapping are the same ones they are enjoying,” says Koech, who adds that parliament will assert its authority to get what it rightfully deserves.

Nyando MP Jared Okello echoes the same sentiments, lamenting the fact that the commission has interfered with lawmakers’ pay in the last four parliaments. He says legislators will not allow it this time around.

“SRC has the behaviour of reducing MPs’ salaries and normally does it when parliament is prorogued. They also know that many legislators are never re-elected and that the new ones will not complain about the reduction,” says Okello.

They [principal secretaries] have a government vehicle, government driver, a bodyguard, house allowance, and all those good things that come with their office, yet we do not see them being pursued by SRC

The Nyando MP also pointed out that principal secretaries, who belong to the same job category as MPs, enjoy the benefits that parliamentarians are being denied.

“They [principal secretaries] have a government vehicle, government driver, a bodyguard, house allowance, and all those good things that come with their office, yet we do not see them being pursued by SRC,” he says.

World’s highest-earning MPs

A 2013 study conducted by the UK-based Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and the IMF ranked Kenyan legislators the second-highest paid lawmakers in the world, beating their counterparts in developed economies when considering Kenya’s low GDP per capita.

The report showed that four out of five of the highest paid MPs in the world are from Africa: Nigerians, Kenyans, Ghanaians, Indonesians and South Africans take the top five slots respectively.

  • Nigeria’s 360 MPs take home a monthly salary of $13,458. They are also entitled to non-taxable allowance worth over $50,000.
  • South Africa’s 400 national assembly members and the 90 national council of province members earn a monthly salary of $13,830, among other allowances.
  • Uganda’s 432 MPs earn a monthly salary of $7,423 plus a car allowance of $47,205, among other benefits.
  • Tanzania’s 356 MPs earn a monthly salary of $6,189 and are entitled to $33,126 car allowance among other benefits.

Githinji Kariuki, a tax expert, says the high salaries are a tip of the iceberg of income disparities bedevilling the continent.

“Unlike in the Western world where public service is considered a calling, in Africa it is a way to access power and enrich oneself. That is why in Kenya people are ready to fight and even kill to be elected to parliament or county assembly,” he says.

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