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How ministers tricked their way into campaign funds

By Amos Kareithi | May 11th 2022 | 2 min read
Leader of Government Business in Parliament in 1969 Paul Ngei [File]

Amid the removal of the cap on campaign funding by the High Court, a peek into Kenya's past shows politicians have always been hungering to use taxpayers to fund their campaigns.

One of the most daring assault of the public coffers was executed on July 4, 1969, by the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Paul Ngei. The timing of the Motion was telling. It was a day before Tom Mboya was assassinated.

The country was preparing for one of its most divisive elections at a time the Jomo Kenyatta administration was facing off with immediate former Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga. Kenyatta wanted to arm Cabinet ministers with sufficient funds to influence the vote. 

The State established a fund from which ministers were to be paid a gratuity calculated at 20 per cent of their salaries. But this needed some legitimacy. Ngei was deployed to table a Motion in Parliament on the package. But the Backbench was lying in wait to torpedo the plan.

When it was introduced, Jean Marie Seroney described the scheme as daylight robbery. The government temporarily withdrew the Motion. It postponed to July 14.

When the House reconvened, members who were still mourning Mboya were shocked to learn that the gratuities had been secretly paid. The MPs were only required to rubber stamp.

The Minister for Finance had paid out the full amount proposed by the government although Seroney had slashed the money to K£200,000. The ministers felt they were entitled to the gratuity because the MPs were earning more than them.

Ronald Ngala had told Parliament that the ministers just needed Sh18,000, which was slightly lower than the Sh28,000 the MPs had been getting per year in sitting allowance. The ministers were unhappy that the MPs salaries had shot from K£41.65 in 1957 to K£100 in 1969 while their earning had stagnated. The MPs then were earning £6 per day. 

And even as the ministers were busty lining their pocket, the General Election was conducted in an environment of intimidation by the State which denigrated opposition politicians who were treated as enemies of the State for merely expressing their support for the Kenya People's Union.

It appears that 51 years later, some of the behaviours some parliamentarians sought to legislate against such as voter bribery still exist. Ironically, the independent candidates that the subsequent election law prohibited are back on the ballot. Come August 9, Kenyans will have to contend with more than 7,000 of them. [Amos Kareithi]


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