Salaries agency defends caps on sitting allowances for JSC members

Salaries and Remuneration Commission Chairperson Sarah Serem addresses the Press at St Mary's Girls Secondary school in Narok. The commission has moved to cap sitting allowances for Judicial Service Commission members. (PHOTO: ROBERT KIPLAGAT/ STANDARD)

The salaries agency has clashed with the Judicial Service Commission over a decision to cap sitting allowances for Judicial officers.

Under the caps, a JSC member can earn a maximum of Sh1 million per month in allowances but JSC members want to earn more. However, the Salaries Remuneration Commission (SRC) believes reversing the decision would give JSC a freehand to hold limitless meetings at the expense of taxpayers.

JSC moved to court last month to challenge the SRC directive that capped the number of paid monthly meetings to eight. SRC said if the plea by JSC to remove the limit is granted, the pay structure of commissions would be distorted and would make it impossible to control the commission's wage bill.

But JSC argued that the orders will affect the ongoing recruitment of judges and will prohibit it from meeting the timelines in the recruitment of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and a judge of the Supreme Court.

But in its response filed yesterday, SRC said allowing JSC to have its way would push the wage bill to unsustainable levels. In an affidavit, SRC Commissioner Anne Gitau said the decision was aimed at dealing with past cases of abuse.

"Considering that the number of paid meetings was not capped, there were cases of abuse, such as members drawing sitting allowances for meetings not properly constituted," she added.

SRC argued that lifting the cap would grant JSC a free hand to determine remuneration for its members, contrary to the Constitution.

"The petitioner's members continued to draw large allowances from the unchecked and unlimited number of sittings. The payment of the allowances to the members of the Petitioner (JSC) was fiscally unsustainable and raised a public outcry," she added.

Currently, each JSC member takes home between Sh150,000 and 250,000 as special responsibility allowance per month.

In addition, they draw a sitting allowance of Sh40,000 for every sitting. This means that they can earn a maximum of Sh320,000 a month for the eight sittings.

After a push to accommodate the extra sittings needed for discipline and recruitment, SRC said it further caved in to allow for a task force allowance of Sh20,000 per day for members while the chairman gets Sh25,000. Members are allowed a maximum of 20 days every month for the task force allowance. This means on a good month, they  take home Sh400,000 as task force allowance while the chairperson pockets Sh500,000.

SRC said the effect of the task force allowance enhanced JSC members' remuneration from Sh550,000 to Sh1,050,00 for the chairperson, Sh495,000 to Sh895,000 for vice chairperson while members had theirs increased from Sh440,000 to Sh840,00.

The special responsibility allowance serves like a retainer and is expected to cover activities that members may engage in outside the formal sittings of the commission.

The sitting allowance is earned for sitting in commission meetings, up to a maximum of eight payable sittings per month. Task force allowance is meant to remunerate members for activities that the commission undertakes beyond its usual business, which cannot be undertaken in the usual JSC meetings.

The standoff started early this year when JSC submitted a request to SRC seeking approval of payment of task force allowance for purposes of recruiting judges.