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December 10, 2018

SANG: The Hyena Dilemma: Obscene MPs red in tooth, claw

Members of Parliament opposed to the finance bill sing a solidity song outside the chambers during the finance bill debate in the house. September 20, 2018. Photo/Jack Owuor
Members of Parliament opposed to the finance bill sing a solidity song outside the chambers during the finance bill debate in the house. September 20, 2018. Photo/Jack Owuor

You know the story of the hyena who got split when he could not decide which of the two parties he would attend. 

When he came to the junction, he made the fatal decision to attend both parties and in the process got split and died. 

Now begs the question, was it the good food in the two parties that killed the hyena or was it the split on the path he strode? This story is usually told to illustrate the dangers of greed, but it also has a deeper meaning. The dichotomous relationship between power and money is often too difficult to separate in the mind of the Kenyan MP. The desire for both is their greatest undoing. The tragedy of it is that they do not know it. So, to answer the age-old question of what really killed the hyena, it was not the food and not the split road but it was lack of knowledge. 

 

POWER AND MONEY

Power is considered the key to money and vice versa but as it is in Kenya today, you can seldom have both and continue sitting pretty. You must choose one. Our MPs, behaving like the hyena, have decided to go for both. 

Doubtless their decision to increase their salaries and perks, despite protestations from the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, has not gone down well with Kenyans, who continue to suffer paying heavy taxes to support the government. The recent introduction of a fuel levy and the resultant inflation has added pressure on mwananchi, and seeing that a portion of it is going to the pockets of MPs, is sure to disillusion the taxpayer. The timing could not have been worse when Kenya has mortgaged its soul to China, and we are increasingly drowning in bad debt. Parliament is (has become) this monster, ferociously efficient, red in tooth and claw, and must have its way no matter what. 

At Independence, Kenyan MPs earned £1,200 per annum equivalent to Sh2,000 per month before tax. The book ‘’An Encyclopaedia of Parliament’’ by Norman Wilding and Philip Laundy published in 1968, describes the emoluments received by all members of Commonwealth parliaments around the world at that time. Kenyan MPs salaries compared well with those of the region and were considerably lower than those of better-developed members of the Commonwealth. 

According to the book, the constituency members in Kenya got an additional £120 and also had £4 per day as sitting allowance, and an additional £2 for subsistence. Their privileges included free first-class rail or air travel between the constituency and Nairobi. They were also given free stationery and all their allowances were tax free. If an MP sat through the 12 parliamentary days of the month, he (there were no women MPs) took home £48 per month or Sh960 and Sh200 as constituency allowance. This brought his total earnings to about Sh3,160 before tax (the K£ was equivalent to Sh20 ).

In Tanzania, the MPs earned £700 and a duty allowance of £300 (total £1,000 ) and an additional £3 for members living outside Dar es Salaam. If living within Dar, they got £1, 100. They were also granted £25 for postage and free air or travel or mileage allowance while on parliamentary business. Telephone calls made from Parliament were free, if they were local calls (within Dar). They had top pay for the others. Uganda paid their MPs £1,200 per annum, with a daily allowance of £3 for members away from home on parliamentary business. If a member resided close to Parliament House, their earnings reduced to £1.15. 

Other privileges included free first-class air, road or rail travel on parliamentary business. Free secretarial services while Parliament was sitting, free use of telephones in Parliament House, free postage on correspondence connected with parliamentary business, while charges for telegrams on parliamentary matters were refundable. 

Salary and allowances were tax free up to £1,800. If you asked me, the Ugandans had the sweetest deal in East Africa. In Zambia the basic was also £1, 200, while Malawi paid £600 and Nigeria £900 with a similar salary for Senators before allowances. UK MPs earned £3250 while the members of the House of Lords received no salary only allowances. 

 

HOUSE OF GREED

As a P1 teacher, my father was paid Sh880 (£44 ) in 1968 per month after tax, when his MP was earning Sh2,000 (£100 ) basic. This was roughly about half of what the other was earning. What a teacher earns today in comparison to the MP is pittance. About 50 years later, the parliamentary salary has moved to Sh7,455,000 annually (adjusted by a paltry Sh186, 375 in monthly taxes). This is K£ 372,750 in similar terms of 1968, representing increase a factor of 3,728! This is not counting other perks that definitely fatten the pay! On the other hand, the exchange rate was Sh1 to $0.14 (meaning $1 was equivalent to Sh7.1428 ), while today it is Sh1 to $0.001 ($1 to 102.59 ). In short, we devalued our currency by a factor of 14.36 but the MP basic salaries went up by a factor of 3,728! 

Dead MPs must be turning in their graves!

It does not stop there. They are to get a car loan of Sh7 million at 3 per cent per annum payable within five years, with a mileage claim of Sh356,525. They will also get a house mortgage of Sh20 million repayable over five years at the paltry rate of three per cent per annum, when Kenyans are being taxed directly to pay for ‘affordable’ housing. 

They now have a health cover of Sh10.2 million (which is extended to multiple spouses), while Kenyans are left to the mercy of the with the scandal-ridden NHIF. And then the sitting allowance of Sh5,000 (which is obtained through a mere signature and/or technical appearance) risesfrom Sh80 in 1968. 

They have also granted themselves a gratuity of 31 per cent of their basic salary for every year served. They will travel business-class flying abroad and their per diem can only be described as obscene (one day alone could pay a teacher for about to a year). An MP just needs to cleverly dodge their constituents and make (often needless) foreign trips and in the process pay off their mortgage(s) faster.

 

PUSHING UP DISPARITIES

It pains most Kenyans to realise that their MPs are blindly unconcerned by their plight or any appeal to reason over their obscene salaries. As we speak, Mau Forest evictees remain in freezing camps, where they live in makeshift sheds of sod. And when it rains — as it often does — they will get seepage of cold soiled water into their dwellings, making them damp, dirty and disconsolate. Their children will get sick as a result and will not find medical attention for miles. Others will die, if not of hunger, then malnutrition. 

Meanwhile, their MP will fly business class to anywhere under the sun, nibbling caviar and drinking bottles of rare champagne served chilled. And if they fly my favourite Emirates, they will be paging through glossy in-flight magazines and patronising the on-board duty-free for the latest in fashion and accessories. 

Their constituents will make makeshift ‘gunia’ stretchers rushing pregnant women through roadless gorges and ridges to distant dispensaries that often have no equipment, medication or even staff. If the MP’s second wife has a cold, she will now be airlifted to the finest treatment locally and abroad. Meanwhile, Kenyans continue to face worsening insecurity and die of preventable diseases of which the young are most vulnerable. 

Children still don’t go to school in good numbers and healthcare, nutrition and other services are difficult to access in most areas and impossible to access in other areas. Still the MP pushes himself to gobble up the taxes of the nation. Before these changes take effect, it already cost the taxpayer, according to the Auditor General, a total of Sh21 million to maintain a single MP in 2017, which in itself jumped from Sh13.5 million in 2012. 

 

FAULTY ARGUMENTS

The MPs have a plethora of arguments to justify their pay increment. They say what they earn is only a tiny percentage of the taxes collected, and even tinier compared to the GDP. It is true in absolute numbers, but compared to priority needs, it is obscene. Besides, if you compare our MPs’ emoluments as a percentage of the GDP to those of other nations we beg from, they are now possibly the highest in the world. Yet we must shamelessly stretch the begging bowl to these nations where MPs earning less than ours, have to approve it in their parliaments. One only wonders what they think of us. Added to that we (must) also take bad loans to sustain our (bad) lifestyle.  

 

HYENA MENTALITY

When a hyena kills an animal, it will not sit and eat quietly before a pack of other hyenas ferociously invitesthemselves to the same meal. The one who killed the animal is often thrown off. By increasing their pay, MPs open the floodgates to intensive competition for their seats. They significantly lower their chances of re-election because there are dozens of other rent-seekers like them salivating for the perks they have given themselves. Already, less than 30 per cent of MPs are serving their second term, while less than three per cent are serving their third (though not consecutive) terms and only one on his fourth. After the new perks, the percentages will decline further. 

Other than attracting other ‘hyenas’ to the meal, the overall quality of leadership will be lowered — a threat to Parliament. 

MPS are probably blinded to this fact by the amounts of money they have put by for themselves. Give a fool a rope, and he will doubtless hang himself.

 

WAY FORWARD

Nothing short of a constitutional referendum to dissolve the Parliamentary Service Commission or at the very least clip its powers, will save Kenyans from the tyranny of Parliament. Parliament is now in its 110th year and we made through much of it without the PSC. But it is deeper than that. There is a viral video of a police officer who was cornered by angry Kenyans for taking bribes at a police check. They stripped him of his ‘earnings’ for the day and divided the money among themselves! 

They did not bother to have him charged in court with the money as evidence. So, it is not the MPs who are really greedy, it is all the rest of us who are, only that we have not had the chance. But we did not get there by chance, we learnt from the best — the MPs. By exploiting the disparities in this hurriedly done Constitution, the MPs will continue to fleece us, even if we replace them with others. This is because they are us! 

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