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We should not pay for MPs' financial mess

By Ken Opalo | June 15th 2019

This week Henry Rotich, CS at Treasury, presented the Executive’s Budget proposals to Parliament.

While Parliament retains the power to amend and reorganise specific votes in CS Rotich’s proposal, it is likely that the Budget will pass as presented. The headline figures include total spending of about Sh3.02 trillion, roughly a fifth of our total national output.

It is rather unfortunate that six years of eye-popping corruption have dampened Kenya’s appetite in taking the Budget seriously.

Instead of debating the merits of specific allocations, media coverage has been dominated by our legislators’ demands for ever more money for personal use. In the latest iteration of this saga, they are demanding more than Sh250,000 a month in housing allowances.

That amounts to Sh1.3 billion a year. For perspective, this figure is just shy of the total amount of the Judiciary’s net development expenditures in the last fiscal year. Similar examples abound from other sectors, gaping Budget holes that could be filled by this significant amount.

Why are our legislators like this? While it is hard to define what a “reasonable” pay level ought to be, a rational person looking at current remuneration levels of legislators would certainly conclude that they are overpaid.

This conclusion would hold even if one were to account for the many personalist demands that our legislators often face from their constituents. For that, they have the CDF which gives each legislator almost Sh100 million a year.

The fundamental problem we face is that our legislators have convinced themselves that they can fix their personal financial indiscipline using public resources. It is common knowledge how many of them take home almost nothing after myriad deductions to cater to all manner of liabilities. Many live well beyond their means – for example by maintaining multiple households and flaunting their wealth through luxurious foreign travel and imported goods. This is the primary reason why these (mostly) men cannot afford to live on more than Sh1 million per month. 

The vast majority of Kenyan households, including those described as the “middle class”, live on less than Sh100,000 a month. Because they have hard budget constraints, most heads of these households are forced to live within their means. Few have the luxury of radically raising their budget ceilings at a whim, like our legislators do.

It is telling that our legislators have provided very little institutional justification for their latest attempt to rob Kenyan taxpayers. The childish lashing out, symbolised by threatened cuts on the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s budget, says it all. This is daylight robbery.

History will judge Parliament’s leadership for letting this happen. Majority Leader Aden Duale and head of the Budget and Appropriations Committee Kimani Ichung'wah are directly responsible for setting Parliament’s agenda on budget debates. They have let our legislators’ greed come before the needs of Kenyan taxpayers.

Others who ought to bear blame include President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. These men ought to have stopped their lieutenants from fleecing Kenyans. Their silence is loud evidence of their complicity.

-The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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