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January 20, 2019

National Assembly, Senate Budget Must Be Slashed

It is right to lay into Members of Parliament especially now that Adan Keynan, MP for Eldas constituency, is planning to introduce a law to gag the media and censor reporting on the many unpopular decisions of the the House.

The move would further cement parliament’s unassailable lead as the most unpopular public institution in the land, way ahead of the Kenya Police.

Perhaps, what is more galling is to learn that the same parliament in the past year spent Sh3 billion on travel. This means each MP cost Kenyans at least Sh7.3 million annually.

Put differently, each MP basically had a travelling allowance of Sh608,000 every month.

Sourcing the money is easy; parliament’s budget has shot from about Sh8 billion four years ago to Sh19 billion today. In fact, it rose 112 per cent from 2010 to Sh17 billion as parliament geared itself to begin implementing the new constitution.

Indeed, there were bound to be increased expenses given that a new Senate chamber and offices for an expanded number of legislators had to be built though this is a one-off expense.

In any case, the Delta Corner towers at Westlands roundabout were sold for over Sh4 billion by Delta Corp East Africa and it is highly unlikely that parliament is putting up anything that can match that, structure-wise.

So, beyond the salaries for the increased number of MPs and the Senators, parliament has no business getting a Sh19 billion budget.

Once the offices have been allocated for, the budget of the House must go back to what it traditionally has been.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga made the point that while parliament was busy looking to curtail the judiciary’s budget, it employs fewer personnel than the judiciary and is based only in Nairobi while the judiciary has to build presence in 47 counties.

This also raises the question: what exactly has been the cost of implementing the constitution?

We will may not easily establish the answer to this question without extensive and expensive research but we can certainly see in the case of parliament that we are overspending.

Governors have been spending a lot of time in Nairobi, for example, holding meetings everywhere, asking for more money and expressing surprise that they can be impeached.

Yet, we are also spending money on the Transition Authority, the body charged with explaining and guiding the process of devolution to the counties.

The governor’s meetings in Nairobi along with their MCAs travel is wasting our money in the name of implementing the constitution.

The National Police Service Commission is an example of why foreigner-led outfits like the Sharad Rao-led Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board give more value for money.

The Kavuludi-led NPSC has hardly been doing any vetting of top cops. It has spent lots of money and time on the process, rented plush offices near Sarit Centre, Westlands, and has little to show for it.

The face of the Kenya Police, probably the number two most detested institution in the country after parliament, has not changed.

We expected radical transformation of the top brass injecting new blood and new thinking into an irredeemably corrupt body.

And since we are talking about the expenses incurred to implement the katiba, it cannot be lost on us that while the NPSC drags its feet reforming the police service, lives have been lost in Lamu and Mandera, and millions of shillings lost at overzealous police road blocks – be they be in search for drunk drivers or speeding ones. Somehow, whenever a law involves fines, the Kenya Police is super-efficient.

A good indicator of this cost of the new constitution is public service employment.

We had 44 ministries in the previous regime which have been cut down to 19. This means 25 fewer ministers. However, the personnel in those 44 ministries are still employed despite the obvious duplication of duties that takes place.

The national exercise to get public workers to register their biometric details could well clean out some ghost workers, but the fact remains that we continue to sustain a bloated workforce.

In the meantime, new people have been hired at the county levels to support county governments. This is despite many counties carrying over many unviable former county councils' staff.

These were county councils were supposed to have been abolished as they were unsustainable but they continue to exist under the guise of county governments, adding to the impossible cost of the new constitution. We have hardly began to implement it, yet we now have talk of spending a lot more money for a referendum to amend it.

We need to first work on cutting these costs, including slashing parliament’s budget by half, for a start.

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