By RAWLINGS OTIENO
Nairobi, Kenya: On the eve of party nominations to pick candidates to contest leadership positions in the March 4 vote, civil society activists conducted a mock burial to bury excesses associated with former members of the Tenth Parliament.
Activists sang dirges and wailed as they marched towards Parliament Buildings, carrying 222 mock coffins, as a mockery of the former MPs’ attempts to legislate hefty sendoff perks, including the State offsetting their funeral expenses.
Hundreds of protestors, who wore black T-shirts to symbolise the solemn occassion, began their march at Uhuru Park’s Freedom corner at 8am.
They paraded the empty caskets that bore the inscription ‘State burial, ballot revolution’, and waved placards that spelt out stinging indictment of the former legislators.
The Kenya Ni Kwetu lobby group had arranged the protest march to express disgust at the notoriety of the MPs’ brazen request.
The procession led by the trumpets went down along Kenyatta Avenue, Moi Avenue into, Harambee Avenue before making a stop at the main entrance of Parliament buildings.
To capture the futility of the MPs’ demand, the activists torched the caskets made of carton boxes to signify the end of an era of a political elite that annoyed Kenyans for their eccentric greed.
As the dark smoke billowed in the skies, the scent of the burning paper filling the air, the activists kept vigil under the scotching sun until the last embers died down.
And they proclaimed the birth of a new era, urging on voters to pick candidates who will embody the renewal of a country.
The demonstrators didnt have the chance to jeer at the targets of their fury, as has been the case while Parliament is in session, because the Tenth Parliament has since been dissolved.
This happened in the glare of a battery of cameras from both international and local media. Police guarding Parliament buildings watched in bemusement.
The mock burial was symbolic with the activists explaining they were burying the insatiable appetite for public funds that the former MPs had displayed during their tenure.
Led by Ahmed Ramadhan of the National Civil Society Council, the activists claimed they were expressing dissappproval at the dishonourable conduct by the former legislators on behalf of Kenyans.
“This is a symbolic burial where we are laying to rest some 221 caskets. We torch these caskets to signify the end of an era and the birth of another, where our aspirations as a new country. This is an important gesture for a good reason,” said Ramadhan. Dubbed as the mother of all peaceful demonstrations against the lawmakers, the joint lobby groups blocked the entrance to Parliament Buildings as they chanted anti-MPs slogans and vowed to rally the voters not to re-elect members of the tenth parliament.
The banners read, ‘No more corruption, Vote wisely’, in an attempt to rally Kenyans not to elect people who were only concerned with their selfish interests.
President Mwai Kibaki subsequently declined to assent to the Retirement Benefits (Deputy President and Designated State Officers) Bill No. 86 of 2012 as enacted by the National Assembly and referred the Bill back to Attorney General Githu Miugai to redraft it to ensure compliance with the Constitution and the law.
The president instructed the AG to submit it and the accompanying explanatory memorandum to the Speaker with immediate effect.
The lawmakers had passed Bill during a late night vote on the final session of the Tenth Parliament.
In addition to the bonus, the retirement package included diplomatic passports for them and their spouses, a state funeral and VIP access to the nation’s airport lounges.
But the activists bitterness was not only with the MPs. They also took a swipe at President Kibaki for assenting to the Presidential Retirement Benefits (Amendment) Bill 2012.
The Bill proposed that the president be paid a lumpsum take-home of Sh12.6 million for every term served. The president will also be paid pension at the rate of 80 per cent of his final salary of Sh700,000 meaning he would earn Sh560,000 a month.
In addition he will be paid 40 per cent of the current salary as entertainment allowance which translates to some Sh280,000.
“It was suprising that President Kibaki, while rejecting the MPs’ pay deal, retained his own hefty retirement package. The failure of his administration to rein in grand corruption remains a blot in what many see as credible efforts to grow the country’s economy,” read the statement of the activists.