Close

INSATIABLE GREED

MPs house allowance push an affront to the law

Their Sh1.2m monthly income means they earn more than their counterparts in the US, UK, France and Germany.

In Summary

• Kenya is grappling with runaway inflation, public debt, corruption, disease, environmental degradation.

• The timing of this law is repugnant, to say the least.

Greedy MPs
Greedy MPs
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

The 2010 Constitution was based on the understanding our governance structure and relationships were to be governed under a fair and democratic constitutional regime. It laid down the duties and powers of government, its arms and institutions, and the duties and rights of citizens and residents.

We sought this new deal partly because we had experienced five decades of not doing enough to check executive, legislative or even judicial excesses. Thus, we needed a solid framework that would not tolerate and might prevent the arms and institutions of government becoming "a law unto themselves" working against the sovereign people of Kenya.

A specific mischief the Constitution to cure was the tendency by members of the executive and the legislature to determine their own salary, allowances and benefits, despite economic realities.

 

In fact, between 1999 and 2013, MPs became notorious for passing laws raising their own pay several times. Thus, drafters of the Constitution created an institution mandated to determine salaries, benefits and remunerations for all state and public officers to protect Kenyans from greed and unrealistic, unfair and fiscally unsustainable remuneration for public and state officers.

Soon after the Salaries and Remunerations Commission had been set up, its mandate would be tested when Parliament passed the Presidential Benefits Act of 2013. It purported to set retirement packages for former presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers and former speakers, with very generous severance packages, without even consulting the SRC.

MPs recently hatched a plan to amend the SRC Act, diminishing the powers and tenure of SRC commissioners to part-time workers earning about Sh6,000 monthly. If this comes to pass...What would prevent them from raising their allowance to 500,000 or a million shillings next year?

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, itself an independent body under the Constitution, saw this as a direct challenge to the constitutional structure and the mandate of independent offices. It moved to the Constitutional Court to determine whether Parliament was wrongfully usurping the powers of the SRC via unconstitutional means. I was the lawyer of record for KNCHR.

determined that what Parliament had done was unconstitutional and that no salary, remunerations or benefits of any state or public officer could be determined without consulting the SRC. The entire Presidential Benefits Act was struck off the statute books.

That signal should have been clear to all and sundry, especially lawmakers. However, in 2018, Parliament passed a Bill to raise their house allowances by Sh250,000 without the SRC’s input. Moreover, the executive, seeing and hearing no evil, curiously went ahead and factored this increment in the current budget. This proposal would cost the Exchequer an additional Sh1.2 billion annually.

That can go a long way to meet very urgent and critical social needs, amenities and services such as healthcare, infrastructure, police welfare, reforestation, conservation, etc. In fact, it's enough to pay each of the more than 100,000 grossly underpaid police officers an additional Sh10,000 annually.

Our MPs are among the best paid globally — despite Kenya’s relatively dismal GDP per capita. Their Sh1.2 million monthly income means they earn more than their counterparts in the USA, UK, France and Germany.

 

MPs' assertion that they need more money because their salaries are disproportionately spent on assistance money to constituents who need medicine, funeral funds et cetera is a weak argument. It's a nefarious self-fulfilling prophecy. It allows them to abdicate their duty to legislate better socio-economic policies while purporting to bridge the gap they've contributed to by giving handouts to increase their popularity.

The additional Sh1.2 billion annually...is enough to pay each of the more than 100,000 grossly underpaid police officers an additional Sh10,000 yearly.

The additional Sh1.2 billion annually...is enough to pay each of over 100,000 grossly underpaid police officers an additional Sh10,000 annually.

Kenya is grappling with runaway inflation, public debt, corruption, disease, environmental degradation. The timing of this law is repugnant, to say the least.

The SRC has petitioned the High Court and successfully halted the allowance from being paid pending determination of the suit challenging the constitutionality of the law increasing MPs' pay.

MPs recently hatched a plan to amend the SRC Act, diminishing the powers and tenure of SRC commissioners to part-time workers earning about Sh6,000 monthly.

If this comes to pass, MPs would have betrayed the people of Kenya, their constituents, and their oath of office, having essentially dismantled one pillar of the Constitution. What would prevent them from raising their allowance to Sh500,000 or  Sh1 million next year?

Constitutional and Human Rights Lawyer. [email protected] @kipdemas