Politicians' retirement benefits too much burden on taxpayers

It is disheartening that MPs are lining up hefty retirement packages for senior State retirees stretching back to 1993. Coming barely a week after revelations that legislators raised their pensions by a staggering 700 per cent demonstrates how keen legislators are on lifting their own while pushing ordinary Kenyans down.

Taxpayers will pay Members of Parliament Sh1.7 billion between July 1, 2018 and June 2019, a seven-fold increase from the Sh262 million paid out in the current financial year.

Every five years, Kenyans brave the morning chill and wait in long queues for hours, excited that they can finally put a caring, listening legislator in the august House. And every time, they have been disappointed as their perceived protectors turn into tormentors.

The current MPs have been in office for barely six months, but they are already weighing weary taxpayers down with a heavier load by rewarding themselves billions of shillings in retirement packages.

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Besides giving retired vice presidents, the former prime minister and a host of vice presidents going back to 1993 sumptuous cash rewards upon retirement, these politicians will also be entitled to three drivers, personal assistants, two secretaries, one accountant and two housekeepers.

They will also be entitled to two senior support staff, two gardeners, two cooks and two cleaners as well as diplomatic passports for both the retired State officer and their spouse, maintenance for cars, and office equipment.

This is simply too much for the taxpayer to bear. Yet the spirit of the law that Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina seeks to amend will do just that - heap even more burdens on the taxpayer.

Should the Retirement Benefits (Deputy President and Designated State Officers) (Amendment) Bill 2018 sail through Senate and the National Assembly, Deputy President William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka will rake in billions of shillings cumulatively in retirement benefits.

The vice presidents covered include Musalia Mudavadi, Moody Awori and Kalonzo Musyoka, the late George Saitoti and Michael Kijana Wamalwa. Initial estimates show that taxpayers might cough up as much as Sh1 billion annually in a hefty retirement package that will also see speakers of the National Assembly and Senate as well as the Chief Justice and his deputy take home billions in the after-work years.

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The speakers likely to benefit from the law if passed are Justin Muturi, Ken Lusaka and their predecessors Ekwee Ethuro, Kenneth Marende and Francis ole Kaparo.

Besides Chief Justice David Maraga, former CJs Willy Mutunga, Evans Gicheru and Bernard Chunga will also benefit from the proposed retirement package.

When the Bill was enacted in 2013, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) estimated that taxpayers would fork out close to Sh500 million annually in pensions for these retired State officers. However, after the SRC revised the salaries for these State officers upwards, the figure might have touched a high of Sh1 billion.

And working with the conservative figure of Sh500 million, a retirement package for these retired officials will leave a hole of Sh2.5 billion in State coffers in the next five years. The proposed law will also see National Super Alliance co-principals Raila and Kalonzo finally receive pension they had been denied for engaging in active politics. Mr Kina’s Bill removes this condition.

We are not opposed to people who served the country diligently being given a befitting send-off package, but that needs to be anchored on economic realities. Every hard working Kenyan needs to retire on a decent income, but for most of them, such an eventuality is a result of sacrifice and, often, painful frugality.

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We agree with Kina’s sentiments that leaders who served the country must be treated with honour. But that should not be at the expense of ordinary Kenyans who are forced to pay for politicians' sunset years when they can’t even pay for their own lifestyles while they are in active employment.

Some of the recommendations in the proposed law are simply preposterous. For example, until they die, these retired officials will be entitled to a monthly pension that is 80 per cent of the salary last earned before retirement - a pension that is as good as the salary.

As the public hearings on the Bill begin, Kenyans must reject such banditry. Members of Parliament must realise that their duty is to the electorate, not themselves or their cronies.

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