It didn’t take long for our new parliamentarians to attack the new salary scales set by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and extolled in this column last month.
I noted then that SRC would come under attack and would lack allies in civil society because it had not done much to build a constituency for its work.
Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wa Muchomba partially proved me wrong on the latter prediction: When she ran off her mouth about how she wanted to be “honoured” and therefore would not accept a pay cut. Her constituents in Kiambu marshalled so much outrage that she was forced to backpedal almost immediately and formally apologise for her remarks.
There was also little sympathy for Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga’s outrageous claim that SRC was converting MPs, who will still make roughly $6,000 a month before benefits ($72,000 a year), into “beggars.” And President Uhuru Kenyatta stood firm against the demands by parliamentarians to revisit the SRC’s salary scales.
Nevertheless, the weakness of the SRC’s position was also affirmed by other events in the past couple of weeks, including at least one self-inflicted wound.
First, the swift reaction to the Kiambu representative may have been driven as much by how she made her case as by what she said. Her remarks were seen (correctly) as greedy, but it is not clear that in a prolonged battle with more sophisticated legislators armed with better arguments, public support would hold. Put another way, Kiambu residents were offended by their representative’s remarks, but that is not the same thing as support for the SRC.
Public understanding of the SRC remains abysmal. As an example, I note that another columnist for the Daily Nation, Father Gabriel Dolan, for whom I have great respect, mistakenly refers in his column on this subject (August 26, 2017) to SRC’s “proposal of a monthly income of Ksh621,250.”
But SRC does not make proposals on MPs’ salaries. They are the ultimate decision-making authority. The widespread misunderstanding of SRC’s role has led to numerous challenges, as Kenya’s first fact-checking service, Pesacheck, has shown.
The fact that in 2017, highly educated people still cannot distinguish between decisions SRC makes exclusively and those on which it merely advises is evidence of the weak alliances the commission has built.
It also appears that some of our new MPs are particularly ornery: They not only oppose the Salaries and Remuneration Commission salary scales, but democracy as a whole.
A truly astonishing op-ed in the same edition of the Daily Nation carrying Father Dolan’s commentary called for the abolition of democracy and its replacement by a benevolent dictatorship. It was written by the MP-elect from Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro.
I am not making this up: Someone who just ran for and won office in Murang’a has made his first order of business the end of democratic elections. Such people are not interested in checks and balances or respecting the boundaries of democratic institutions, yet this is the only way an institution like SRC can survive.
But the worst news of all for SRC since I wrote my last column is their own latest fumble, highlighted in the Business Daily on August 22. It turns out that, while all of us have been distracted with the salary drama from our new Woman Representatives, SRC has abetted a massive scam.
This scam involves the fact that parliamentarians are eligible for pensions under legislation originally passed in the 1980s, and revised as recently as 2012. This law requires parliamentarians to contribute 12.6 per cent of their salary every month to a personal pension account.
The account is credited with interest at a very generous 15 per cent per year. It appears that to receive a full pension from this account, you must serve a full two terms, but you are eligible for a partial pension if you serve less than that.
There is nothing wrong with parliamentarians receiving a pension, especially a contributory one. However, SRC has also given, both in 2013 and now again in 2017, a gratuity of 31 per cent of salary to parliamentarians. A gratuity is given to people as a one-off payment in lieu of a pension.
What possible justification is there for giving MPs both a pension and a gratuity? While the media reports on this matter suggested that the Parliamentary Service Commission and SRC were negotiating to ensure that MPs only got one benefit or the other, they also noted that in the past, parliamentarians had received both.
Why would SRC make the mistake of duplicating a benefit, and make this mistake not once but twice in the past five years, and then hope to resolve the error through negotiation with the body representing the greedy, anti-democratic beggars described above?
Mr President, do speak up again if you would.
Jason Lakin is head of research for the International Budget Partnership. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org