MPs are manufacturing all manner of reasons to protect their hefty perks and avoid taking responsibility for directing government response to the coronavirus pandemic.
While other parliaments are coming up with measures to cushion people and businesses from being wiped out by the disease, Kenyan lawmakers have stood out for their inertia.
Since the first case was reported on March 13, 2020, MPs have been conspicuously missing in action. Save for a few who have come out to make donations in their individual capacities, a majority have remained in the shadows of their pampered lifestyles.
The only time the lawmakers seemed to regain their voices – and in their numbers – was on Saturday to protest/defend the leadership coup in the fractious Jubilee Party.
While the Executive, the Judiciary and the Council of Governors have taken 30 per cent and 20 per cent monthly salary cuts, lawmakers both in Parliament and County Assemblies are quiet on such measures seeking to raise funds for emergency interventions against the pandemic.
- READ MORE
- Covid-19: Seven people succumb to coronavirus
- There is hope for tourism sector beyond Covid-19
- Maraga shocker no surprise, but Uhuru’s men failed him
- World Contraception Day: Ministry pledges to give Kenyans contraceptives
Covid 19 Time Series
Key parliamentary committees on Budget, Finance, Trade and Health have abdicated their mandate, leaving Treasury and the Presidency to craft a rescue package for the country. The MPs are only happy to be recalled to endorse the package tomorrow, perhaps not least because it comes with a sitting allowance to boot.
A regular MP earns Sh710,000 (excluding allowances), while the Majority and Minority leaders in the Senate and National Assembly earn Sh1,056,000 and Sh1,020,670 respectively.
What paycut can do
If the lawmakers were to take a 10 per cent pay cut, the 416 MPs in both Houses would contribute at least Sh29.5m monthly to the emergency kitty.
This amount is enough to buy 1.4 million masks (at Sh20 each) for Kenyans hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Each of the 290 constituency representative control on average Sh137 million of the Sh39.8 billion allocated under the National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NG-CDF) in the 2019/20 financial year.
In times of crisis, just like the government is reallocating expenditure, members of the National Assembly, who sit tomorrow to consider the government’s tax measures, should as well explore channeling some of these resources to help deal with the crisis.
In his address on March 25, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced voluntary monthly pay cuts for the Executive.
“In sharing the burden occasioned by the present global health pandemic, over the duration of the global crisis and commencing immediately, my administration has offered a voluntary reduction in the salaries of the senior ranks of the National Executive,” he said.
“I call on the other arms of government and tiers of government to join us in this national endeavour by making similar voluntary reductions; which will free up monies to combat this pandemic.”
Despite the appeal, MPs have opted to remain mute, with only National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate counterpart Kenneth Lusaka taking a 30 per cent pay cut for at least three months.
If it were politics, the MPs would be traversing the country holding rallies and promising goodies to Kenyans and swearing how they care about them.
Yesterday, Minority Leader John Mbadi (Suba South) said the question of salary cut should be left to individual members to decide. Mbadi argued that salary cuts may not do much because some members are mobilising funds for food donations to their constituents who are in dire need.
“This is an individual decision. Members can contribute if they so wish. In my constituency, there is a dire need of food and I am mobilising funds from my personal donation and friends to purchase food items for them,” said Mbadi.
His Lugari counterpart Ayub Savula said MPs are guided by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) and will take a stand when they resume sittings tomorrow afternoon.
“We operate under PSC and when we resume sitting, we will agree on how to make a contribution. We should re-direct the PSC development budget, salary cuts and allowances,” said Savula.
The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) said there cannot be only one approach to the pandemic.
“There must not be only one particular approach. MPs are already supporting their constituents directly. The other State and public officers have chosen to take a pay cut. Either way, the overall objective is being met,” said Wandayi.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr said pay cuts alone may not yield much in the fight against the virus that has ravaged the global economy.
“Owing to many factors, the pay cut may not yield a significant amount. The Senate Business Committee approved a deduction of Sh200 million from its budget,” he said.
Silent in the hour of need
Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town) said MPs will stand with Kenyans through policy, legislation and reorganisation of the budget and oversight.
“As leaders, we prefer this policy-based approach to cheap populism, which will put no meaningful resources on the national table for use in this emergency. We shall offer oversight of funds and the national resources from non-emergency expenditure projects towards combating Covid-19,” said Kaluma.
Former Education PS James ole Kiyiapi accused the two House Speakers of not providing leadership.
“It is queer and strange that the two Speakers have not summoned the MPs to move with speed and leverage on the resources sanctioned by President Kenyatta and make them available to the people and country,” said Kiyiapi.
He called on Kenyans to teach the MPs a lesson in 2022 because they have failed them.
“If it was politics, they would be all over the country hurling insults (at each other). But they are now quiet in our hour of need. If the House is small for them, this is reason enough for Kenyans to reduce their number in 2022. Maybe they are quiet because they are infected and quarantined,” Kiyiapi said.
Political analyst Macharia Munene asked MPs to take the cue from Uhuru and act fast.
“Some of the Executive Orders issued by Uhuru might be unlawful but they are allowed in an emergency because they are meant to save lives. MPs should use common sense and perform their duties,” Prof Munene said.