Why SRC could be punching air in MPs allowance threats

Judge Chacha Mwita at the High Court. [George Njunge/Standard]
Members of Parliament yesterday laughed off threats by the salaries commission to recover Sh830 million paid to them in backdated house allowances. The MPs are emboldened by the fact that they have had their way on their welfare since 2013.

Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) chairperson Lyn Mengich on Wednesday vowed to surcharge each MP the backdated Sh250,000 monthly house allowance, which she termed illegal.

But yesterday, the MPs were unapologetic they would continue drawing the contested allowance as they resorted to intimidation and blackmail they have deployed in the past to protect their perks.

The legislators’ confidence may be borne out of their past duels with the salary body, where they have always emerged winners despite tough talks from the commission, which lost its first attempt in 2013 to reduce their hefty pay. 

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Minority Leader in the National Assembly John Mbadi summed up the view of the legislators over the threats, claiming that the water was long under the bridge over the allowances, implying that there was little, if any, that Ms Mechich would do now.

“This is a stale case. It is shadow boxing by the SRC,” argued Mbadi even as his colleagues told off the commission.

“We need to disband this commission as soon as possible. We should not be drawn into these cat-fights every other time,” said the Suba MP, a position shared by his Dagoretti North counterpart Simba Arati.

By threatening to recover the money from the MPs, Mengich is walking a path often trodden by her predecessor Ms Sarah Serem with little success. Serem was in constant fights with the legislators, earning herself praise from Kenyans.

But realistically, Serem never got the better of the MPs in all the duels as the legislators always had their way.

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First duel

That SRC has remained toothless in curbing the arbitrary award of higher pay by MPs was witnessed immediately after their first duel in 2013 when Serem and her team capped the basic salary of legislators at Sh532,500, reducing it from the over Sh800,000 that the legislators earned in the 10th Parliament.

But after haggling and nasty exchanges, SRC and the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) – which is the employer of the legislators – sealed a deal that eventually saw SRC drop the ceilings for the MPs allowances, giving them the leeway to increase their take-home pay to beyond what they even used to earn.

While the basic salary was structured by SRC to keep rising each year by an average of Sh44,375, peaking at Sh710,000 on the fifth year of their term, the MPs had been granted a blank-cheque through unchecked allowances that made them end up receiving in excess of Sh1.2 million a month.

But while the MPs were spoiling for war, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi was calling against the escalation of the debate through the media, instead urging dialogue to settle any dispute over the allowance.

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On Wednesday, Mengich had defended the SRC decision to go after the MPs allowances, arguing that would amount to double payment as the element of their housing was factored in the calculation for their basic pay.

She criticized the position taken by PSC that the payment of the allowances, which was backdated to October last year, was based on High Court Judge Chacha Mwita ruling in a case filed by deputy governors, where the court upheld that being state deputy county chiefs were entitled to housing benefits.

Mbadi dismissed the position by Mengich that the governors and the deputy are in a special category while the benefits of the MPs are consolidated in the gross pay.

Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka said: “Legislators are entitled to house allowances just like other state officers. The mortgage given to them is a loan which is optional.”

Onyonka said that the commission was over stepping its mandate since Parliament was an independent arm of government just like the Executive and Judiciary.

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SRCSalaries and Remuneration CommissionMPs allowances