Do you know that the discussion around the privileges to be enjoyed by Members of Parliament’s polygamous families is as old as 1971?
That time, it was sparked off by a new tax law that was set to be implemented. But in 2017, it has been revived by Budalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala who has returned to August House after 10 years in political cold.
He says that he wants to fight “blatant discrimination” against additional spouses and children due to the nature of MPs’ medical insurance cover as guided by Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
“Where is it written that an MP shall only have one wife? Parliament is a house that makes laws. It has not made any law that says an MP should only have four children,” says Wanjala.
In 1971, the discussion found its way on the Hansard. This came from the then former Assistant Minister for Health and Mombasa Central (now Mvita) MP, Mohamed Jahazi, who said marrying more than one wife should, in fact, come with tax incentives.
Former President Mwai Kibaki, then the Minister for finance and planning, was left startled as one MP after another argued a case for polygamy and why State should reduce their taxes.
“If somebody has two wives, that is taxation and if someone has five or six children, that is taxation because he pays school fees, feeds them and clothes them. How can the minister recognise only three or four children? That is mzungu law and we do not want it,” said Jahazi.
That time, house rents were averaging Sh500 and minimum wage was Sh250. He wondered why the state was giving out Sh30 as house allowance to be used to pay Sh500 rent. Jahazi added that it was even a bigger burden for the polygamous families.
“Anybody with more than four children is being taxed more than other people because feeding has gone up, clothing, maintenance, and school fees and so on. Is this not taxation?” argued Jahazi who currently chairs Mombasa Council of Elders.
He appealed to Mr Kibaki to make changes to the tax laws to make it African since there were many men who were polygamous. By feeding more than one family, the MP argued that the man is already being taxed.
He added that unless the government planned to start paying unemployed women so that they queued at the labour offices to collect money, a man who saves the country from unemployment should be “honoured” through less tax.
“If somebody has 10 children, please recognise them. Give every child an allowance. If somebody has two or three wives, give him an allowance because by maintaining three wives, he is saving the country from having destitutes on the roads,” said Jahazi. However, Kibaki, who is remembered for comic relieves despite holding a serious docket, disagreed with Jahazi.
“Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, is the honourable member for Mombasa Central not misleading the House by saying that a man marries many wives to serve the nation when we know that a man marries many wives to enjoy himself?” he posed.
But Jahazi, in response, told the house that there is, at least, an interest in anything one does in serving the nation and asked Kibaki to “take this seriously.”
The same script has played out in the 12th Parliament, with Budalang’i legislature Mr Wanjala arguing that the SRC recommendations on MP’s medical cover are un-African and unconstitutional. The cover caters for one wife and four children under the age of 25. Currently, the National Assembly has 349 MPs while the Senate has 67 members who together, will cost taxpayers about Sh5 billion per year on the medical cover.
Each is entitled to Sh10 million per year per family for in-patient services in addition to Sh300,000 for out-patient services covering themselves, one wife and four children. Also, they are guaranteed Sh150,000 as maternity cover for one wife and also given Sh75,000 for dental care for one family. While this may be seen as attractive, Wanjala, quoting the 2010 Constitution on equality and freedom from discrimination, opines that leaving out the additional family from the medical cover is discriminating one on the grounds of marital status, which is against the law.
“The wazungus cheated us that we should marry one wife and some people fell into the trap. Today, they talk about same-sex marriages. For me, I will marry more wives if need be,” he said in a TV interview.
Sailing in the same ship with Mr Wanjala were Sirisia MP John Waluke and Fred Kapondi of Mt Elgon who argued that the requirement could divide polygamous families.
“It is not fair to have a medical insurance scheme that covers only one spouse when it is a known fact that most legislators are polygamous. This is tantamount to breaking up families,” said Waluke.