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Members of Parliament
Like clockwork, each new Parliament since 1992 begins its tenure by raising the issue of remuneration of MPs. In the run-up to the August 8th elections, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission announced cuts in the base pay of our MPs by about Sh100,000. The commission also announced unspecified cuts to MP allowances. This was part of a wider effort to reduce government recurrent expenditure. And it goes without saying that most Kenyans of goodwill welcomed the move to reduce the pay of our elected officials.

Before proceeding any further, I should state that I am a student of the Kenyan legislature, and have in the past written in support of an increase in MP pay. My past argument was informed by the observation that our poorly-resourced legislature was no match for the Executive that it was supposed to keep in check. Parliament, I argued, needs adequate resources for pay of staff, research, and organisational development.

It also needs to pay MPs well, in order to reduce the opportunity cost of serving in the legislature. If we are to have a full-time Parliament (as opposed to an amateur institution) we must be willing to pay our legislators well. A poorly-resourced Parliament will soon become a lapdog of the Executive. But there is a limit to how much we can pay our MPs in good conscience. And I think our members may have already reached and passed that limit.

This week, some of them argued that they need higher pay so that they can contribute to harambees. But what about the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NGCDF)? Many Kenyans may not know this, but MPs actually rarely ever exhaust their annual CDF allocations. This is money that they should be using for “development” in their constituencies, instead of using private means.

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And if members fear that potential challengers will outspend them at harambees, then they have the power to pass laws banning such contributions. What if, instead of perpetuating the reliance on harambees for development, our MPs actually passed laws that strengthened government provision of public goods and services? We must move away from thinking that our elected leaders exist to give us handouts. We hire them to formulate laws and policies to our benefit.

More broadly, the fight over MP pay is a once-every-five-years reminder of how powerful an institutional Parliament can be, when it wants to. In all likelihood, members of the 12th Parliament will force the president and other state institutions to acquiesce to their demands.

Parliament, after all, is the institutional expression of our collective sovereign authority over all other state institutions. What if MPs instead of only using their power to raise their salaries they sought to tackle real problems affecting real Kenyans? What if they actually followed through with their mandate to keep the Executive in check?

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University.

Twitter: @kopalo

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