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Ridiculous pay demands putting a strain on budget

By Editorial | November 18th 2013

Kenya: County Assembly Members’ rejection of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s offer on pay and allowances and the ever-growing demands by Members of the National Assembly might turn out to be just what the country needs to change the Constitution to reduce the bloated public wage bill.

A bloated public wage bill means that the country spends the bulk of the money it raises from taxes on paying taxes with little left for development.

Even worse, the promised services in health and education, often prove to be an illusion because there is little money to buy such basics as drugs and medical equipment or textbooks and stationery respectively. The result is a preponderance of a sickly and poorly educated workforce which is a perfect recipe for poverty and early death.

Surely, this is not a future that Kenyans wish for themselves or their families. Yet, it could very well be the one the new Constitution forces on a growing number of citizens unless it is changed as soon as possible and certainly before the next general election.

This is why all MPs should support the Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo’s rallying call to the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi to convene a meeting of all MPs to an informal conference to look at ways of scaling down the escalating wage bill. Hopes are that, for once, the MPs would unite behind the proposed constitutional amendments irrespective of their party memberships.

Although it is not possible to predict the exact amendments that may be proposed — and eventually passed into law — Mr Midiwo and his parliamentary colleagues have already indicated they would include a reduction in their numbers. One of the examples cited to demonstrate just how unrealistic and out-of-step Kenya is with the  rest of the world, is the number of members of parliament.

With a population of only 40 million people, Kenya has 418 MPs compared to major democracies like India with a population of 1.3 billion, but only 790 members in a bicameral parliament. The  much richer United States of America has 535 members of Congress representing a population of 340 million people.

But it is not just in numbers that Kenya does a disservice to itself but in the salaries and other emoluments paid to its representatives. This is revealed when it is considered that although the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is a miserly US $862, compared to India’s $1,489 and America’s $49,965, Kenya MPs’ pay now ranks above that of India and the United States of America.

But even more revealing, the MPs’ pay is 76 times the country’s GDP. Hopefully, it is not too much to expect the MPs to look into this area even as they grapple with the question of reducing their numbers.

Obviously, the number of county representatives  — or even counties — may need a trimming, to ensure that the devolved units have a realistic chance of standing on their own feet.

Yet another knotty issue the MPs are expected to deliberate on is the election date mandated by the current Constitution, which would see the country go into an election in 2017 instead of the following year. The manner in which the people’s representatives engage with the budgeting process should also be streamlined to ensure the country sets its priorities in a way that yields the best results.

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