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Coming a week before parliamentarians take their oath of office, Kiambu Woman Representative-elect Gathoni wa Muchomba touched a live wire by rejecting the salary scales published by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). Faced by one of the fastest recall petitions and public uproar, she has sensibly apologised and reversed her position. The incident and subsequent debate offers insights into our leadership, the possible character of the 12th Parliament and what citizens and leaders need to act on next.

Misreading the moment, other MP-elects have argued that without higher salaries and allowances they will be unable to recover their heavy campaigns investment, meet their constituent’s insatiable needs or maintain their “mheshimiwa” (Honourable) appearance and lifestyle. The three arguments tragically betray lack of basic salary negotiation etiquette and poor self-awareness. Anyone who has been interviewed for a job knows that salary negotiations are always uncomfortable. There are some basic errors you can make. Introducing one’s personal needs is the first no no. Your potential employers are not interested in your mortgage, student loan repayments, entertainment preferences or cars you drive and must maintain. We did not ask you to spend 40 million on your campaigns or our emerging helicopter mini-industry either. Place these arguments in the broader context and we have a right to be very worried.

Perhaps we stepped over some basics in our community and media election debates. Before we got to the manifesto promises, we should have started with the question, “Do you accept the salary package for this position?” For those that continue to want to serve us (current terms and conditions apply), it is time to let go of the excessive self-interest. Any act by our parliamentarians to overturn the SRC salary scales is undeniably an abuse of power for personal interest. It is an act of corruption. Corruption has significant political, economic and social costs. It is also the primary source of the public lack of confidence that fueled the high leadership turnover we saw in the recent elections.

To have between 60-90 per cent turnover of elected national and county representatives reflects a failing leadership culture. Like Muchomba, leaders can save themselves from public recall and certain self-inflicted humiliation in 2022 by reading the signs of an assertive electorate. It is significant that Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, Jaquar, Yusuf Hassan and Mohammed Ali spoke firmly from the same script to condemn the growing chorus of “we want more” before it got louder. Value-based bi-partisanship will be critical in the next parliament.

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The party parliamentary groups must squarely address leadership integrity on the floor and in the parliamentary committees. Party leaders must continue to lead. Anyone who challenges the SRC guidelines should be dropped from parliamentary committees, censured and denied a party platform to run in 2022. For those hurting from campaign costs, let them fast track legislation to cap future campaign financing or consult Boniface Mwangi. For those hurting from meeting the costs of others’ school and hospital bills, let them legislate the manifesto policy promises and help their constituents optimize the benefits of the Constituency Development Fund, National Health Insurance Fund and other facilities.

The failure of the IEBC and the parties to apply and raise ethical leadership standards before the elections has left us with mixed bag of leaders. Predictably, we can expect a range of integrity violations. They will range from genuine mistakes, extravagance, sly greed and outright fraud. Before our leaders find themselves at the sharp end of public criticism and action, we need rapid training programmes on what constitutes conflict of interest. We also need citizens and civic organisations to remain vigilant and engaged.

A last word for Sarah Serem and the SRC. Thank you for introducing these guidelines prior to the polls. It leaves no respectable leader with any credible excuse for opening this self-interested conversation now or in the immediate future. It also leaves public interest activists no need to go in search of pigs and rats.

- Mr Houghton writes in a personal capacity. @irunguhoughton

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