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Fulfil pledge on reducing salaries to tackle huge wage bill

By The Standard | Published Thu, March 16th 2017 at 00:00, Updated March 15th 2017 at 20:02 GMT +3
President Uhuru Kenyatta makes an address on state of the nation where he pledged to reduce salaries of public officers. (Photo: Beverlyne Musili/Standard)

A high point of the fourth State of the Nation address by President Uhuru Kenyatta Wednesday was the assertion that the batch of leaders coming in after the August 8 General Election would get a reduced pay package.

This would be in keeping with recommendations of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

SRC, which is charged with harmonising pay and limiting a runaway wage bill that today stands at Sh627 billion, has time and again warned that the increasingly high pay for the country's bloated public workforce is not sustainable.

It is the hope of ordinary Kenyans that the pay reduction pledge, especially for the highly paid top public officers, will be actualised.

The 11th Parliament has stood in the way of any attempts by SRC to regulate its members' pay.

And given that Parliament determines its own pay, it will be interesting to see how the Executive will make this work.

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In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto said they would take a 20 per cent pay cut while Cabinet Secretaries and that Principal Secretaries would take a 10 per cent cut.

That remains largely unfulfilled today and could easily give rise to scepticism on the latest assertion by the President.

Yet dealing with a ballooning wage bill demands bold steps that may not resonate well with leaders, who have come to regard huge salaries and allowances as their birthright even when their input does not justify those salaries.

No doubt, attractive salaries and other packages are the bait that has drawn many aspirants to seek elective posts.

Clearly, it is not from a desire to offer better or focused leadership, but to dip their hands and gorge themselves from the abundance of public coffers.

Uhuru gave a glowing account of his administration's achievements.

On governance, the President said he had assented to 136 laws, ensured a smooth transfer of functions from the national to the county governments and that a harmonious working relationship led to the great strides devolution had made.

That may be true, but a number of issues still stand in the way and often threaten to sour relations between counties and the national government.

While shareable revenue had steadily risen from 15 per cent to 34 per cent, governors demand 45 per cent.

Gains made include the completion of the first phase of the SGR to Nairobi on schedule and bringing the police to civilian ration to 1:380 from 1:800, which is way better than the UN recommendation of 1:450.

Early this year, 535 police vehicles were commissioned, but as the President was gallant enough to admit, security remains a challenge especially in the North Rift region.

Granted, 11,950 kilometres of roads have been tarmacked, greatly reducing time taken to travel and the cost of doing business in some areas.

On things that impact the common citizens, not much was said. The cost of living has soared and is way out of reach for many. Prices of commodities have more than doubled even as inflation, redundancies and unemployment continue to bite.

A lot has been achieved, but clearly the Government could have done better.