Cutting expenses and wastage at the top of the three arms of government might not immediately raise the money required to pay the 50-60 per cent pay rise teachers are demanding, but it would be a good starting point and might show the required goodwill to appease an agitated Kenyan workforce.
Top state officers would be sending the message to teachers and other low-level civil servants that they are not insatiable bloodsuckers, who load themselves with monthly salaries that can keep ‘ordinary’ families aground for more than one year. On top of this, they get prodigious allowances they don’t deserve.
It was also the MPs and MCAs who triggered the salaries crisis in the country by making their stomachs the first agenda in the national and county assemblies. In 2013, they blackmailed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to submitting to their demands and arbitrarily hiked their salaries and allowances.
It is therefore gratifying to see some of our political leaders coming up with suggestions on how the government can reduce its wage bill by slashing the salaries and allowances of the executive, parliamentarians and other state officers.
Kenyans have spoken on this issue many times, but the only tangible step towards achieving it, came from President Uhuru Kenyatta when he announced that he together with his deputy, cabinet and principal secretaries would take a 20-10 per cent pay cut in an effort to ease the wage bill burden the country is grappling with. Presumably the salary cuts were affected, but the amount realized while setting a good example would in practical terms, be just a drop in the ocean.
Majority leader Aden Duale took the debate a notch higher when he recently proposed that funds to mitigate the education crisis precipitated by the teachers strike, be sourced from the cuts in the executive, judiciary and legislature. Mid-September, Kinango MP Gonzi Rai radically weighed-in by calling for the slashing of the numbers of MPS, senators and MCAs in an effort to bring down the bloated wage bill. Rai specifically called for a referendum to push for the reduction of MPs from 349 to 180. He even was brave enough to touch on the controversial issue of sending senators home.
But the most radical and formal proposal so far has come from the flamboyant Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba who has filed a motion to that effect, with the speaker of the national assembly.
The wage structure in this country is terribly skewed with obscenely huge salaries going to a few people at the top and the mass of public servants earning meagre salaries. However if Namwamba’s motion is passed state officers including the president, his deputy, cabinet and principal secretaries, members of parliament, senators, governors, their deputies, speakers of national assembly and those of county assemblies, MCAs and senior executives of the counties would take home only half of what they are getting now. Others targeted by the motion are judges, members of constitutional commissions, parastatal chiefs and their directors. He like Rai also proposes to reduce the number of MPs and MCAs.
The ODM secretary general has also raised the issue of allowances and claims including sitting, travel and mileage. It defies logic for someone to earn a salary and then get paid a sitting allowance for attending a meeting at his/her workplace. We have also heard of cases where MPs claim mileage when in fact they don’t travel or for distances shorter than they actually travel. There is therefore need to do away with some of these and scale down on the essential ones.
Most Kenyans who earn peanuts are amazed at the amount of money the government spends on retired presidents who are individually very wealthy men. These statesmen should surrender the allowances and privileges they are getting for the sake of the lowly paid Kenyans. It is also time we reduced the members of the numerous constitutional commissions most of which do not add much value to Kenyans.
Unfortunately, Kenyan leaders are an unfeeling greedy lot and the proposals to cut their pay and allowances and reduce their numbers in parliament and in the county assemblies will definitely face stiff opposition (as we have already witnessed). But the men and women, who will support Namwamba’s motion hopefully led by the President, will go down in history as the leaders who tried to save Kenya from one of worst public wage bill crisis.
However this move should not be seen as a panacea for the teachers’ pay or any other body of public servants seeking a pay rise. Even if the salaries and allowances of top state officers are chopped by 50 per cent, the funds such raised will not be enough to afford pay rises for the hundreds of thousands of public servants. Our leaders may be gluttonous and earning indecent salaries, but they are not that many.