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Peg ex-presidents' retirement perks to their performance while in office

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta during an interview on manufacturing in Kenya in June 2019. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

It is good that President William Ruto has stepped in to resolve issues regarding former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s retirement benefits.

State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohamed’s announcement that “a team headed by the Head of Public Service has been formed to address concerns raised by Uhuru".

But whilst presidential retirement benefits are provided for by the laws of the land, they also raise fundamental moral questions. First of these is that retirement from active politics is a sine qua non for their attainment.

The pinnacle of any political career is the presidency. No other political office in the land carries the same gravitas as this institution. The hopes and aspirations of a people are reposed in the President for a five-year renewable term.

Those who become president are expected to give their best in the duration of their tenure and thereafter exit the political scene gracefully to enjoy their sunset years writing their memoirs or adjusting themselves to advisory roles. Should politically active former presidents be regarded as retirees?

Second, the former president’s retirement package comes across as ostentatious. From the plaintive cry of his spokesperson, the nation learnt that Sh1 billion was owed to the President. For Kenyans subsisting on less than a dollar a day, the demand for Sh1 billion must reek of unfathomable petulance. For a fact, most Kenyans will never come close to such an amount in their lifetimes.

Debt to GDP ratio

And it comes across as a slap in the face of those living in privation as a result of the Kenyatta administration’s policies. From Mwai Kibaki, he inherited an economy that was growing at near double-digits with a balanced budget to boot. He bequeathed a highly indebted government with the debt to GDP ratio at 68 per cent, way above the recommended threshold. 

It is a shameless society that does not demand a mea culpa from those who messed up the economy. Instead, it rewards them with benefits that are incongruent with their achievements. Public service gratuities should be in tandem with one’s contribution to society. For sure, the last administration enacted policies that only benefited a narrow clique of society’s elite.

How else does one explain the Nairobi Expressway which, while significantly reducing the time taken to travel from Westlands to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is functionally useless to the indigent in the city’s numerous slums? Or the SGR which may never break even in the lifetimes of many Kenyans but yet remains the development centre-piece of the last administration?

To one accustomed to Patek Philippe watches and driving around in Mercedes G63s, one Sh1 billion in retirement benefits is chump change. And the need to renew their fleet of expensive cars is urgent lest they suffer a breakdown on the expressway.

Bottom line is that it is such a disconnect from the reality of Kenyans that informed debt-fuelled spending, often with poor returns, and that has left the nation with heavy debts. And there is a correlation between performance as head of state and ostentatious retirement packages. Uruguay’s former president Jose Mujica drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle and uses a bicycle as means of transportation. He donates 90 per cent of his monthly pension to charity. He has the respect of the entire world!

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst

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