State officers devise ways to earn more than they're entitled to

Mary Wanyonyi takes oath as the chairperson of the Commission on Revenue Allocation on July 17, 2023. [File, Standard]

Fresh revelations by the Salaries and Remunerations Commission show how some of the public and state officers have devised ways of earning higher perks than they are entitled to even as the country grapples with a huge wage bill.

On Thursday, the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday, heard that the Commission for Revenue Allocation (CRA ), led by James Katule had initially sought approval for a new salary structure from the national treasury which in turn directed that they seek the same from SRC. It locked horns with with Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) over its decision to implement a new salary structure and irregularly promote staff within its ranks without a green light from the SRC.

According to a report by the Office of the Auditor General, the CRA implemented a new salary structure in the 2020/2021 financial year and accorded direct promotion to 14 staff members without the necessary approval of SRC, a move that had financial implications of Sh7.4 million.

“Although the CRA sought for the advisory opinion on structural reorganisation and staffing from SRC, it went ahead and implemented the unapproved structure before receiving the advisory,” read the report.

Katule who is the CEO, however, submitted to the committee that the new structure had been implemented by his predecessors at the commission but was keen on employing remedial measures by engaging with SRC.

“The irregularity happened in 2020 and was by the commission that existed then in perpetuity. We urge that we are allowed to engage with SRC to see what can be done to remedy the situation instead of dwelling on the past,” Katule submitted.

CRA chairperson Mary Wanyonyi Chebukati said the commission was cognisant of the functions and powers bestowed upon SRC and they were keen on implementing guidance from them. She dispelled the notion that the development was the CRA undermining the SRC.

“We are having engagements with SRC and we are at the stage of developing a strategic plan to be approved by the SRC and National Treasury,” said Wanyonyi.

Legal battles mounted by the judiciary, parastatal chiefs and various commissions with SRC paint a picture of state officers keen to cushion themselves against ‘punitive’ pay cuts and taxes and levies introduced by President William Ruto’s administration.

The judiciary is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the SRC over a decision by the latter to abolish judges’ car grants ranging from between Sh5 million to Sh10 million,  a dispute which has now been referred to Chief Justice Martha Koome.

The case filed by Peter Gachuiri sought to compel the government to reinstate the suspended car grants.

The dispute started in 2011 when the head of the civil service issued a circular allowing judges to access the multi-million car grants. But SRC determined that the allowances were illegal and in 2021 wrote to the head of the public service who subsequently communicated to Chief Registrar of the Judiciary that SRC had terminated the benefit from July 2022.

Gachuiri in his petition argued that the withdrawal of the car grant allowances was illegal as it affects the work of the judges. SRC however termed the demands by judges as selfish noting that they already enjoyed chauffeured transport at the taxpayers’ expense.

“The demand is an express and clear act of constitutional subversion. It adversely impacts the affordability and fiscal sustainability of the public wage bill and would result in inequality and disparity in benefits provided to state officers,” said SRC’s chief executive officer Anne Gitau.

The commission was concerned that the reinstatement of car grant allowances would amount to double compensation but the judges were adamant that the grant was a necessity as it would help them expedite their duties.

Kenya Judges Welfare Association President Justice Kossy Bor in her sworn affidavit even likened the withdrawal in allowances to discrimination, arguing that other state officers continue to enjoy the provision.

“It is discriminatory against judges given that SRC has recognised existing car grants for members of the legislature, executive, independent offices and commission while purporting to cancel benefits due to judges,” said Bor.

Parastatal chiefs have also found themselves starring down the barrel of the gun after President Ruto earlier this year trained his sights on the chief executives and employees of at least 12 state corporations who have been taking home hefty perks amid the government’s push to harmonise salaries of all civil servants and state officers.

Ruto wondered how certain officials had awarded themselves the huge salaries at the expense of taxpayers and added that he had initiated talks with SRC to “look into the huge disparity between salaries earned by civil servants and state officers in certain government agencies.”

And whereas SRC has admitted to being actively involved in taking progressive steps towards review and harmonisation of remuneration and benefits in the public service, there has been a lot of push-back from the parastatal heads.

Reportedly, some of the parastatals targeted by SRC include National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), Capital Markets Authority (CMA), Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Airways and the National Intelligence Service (NSIS) among others.

The CEOs at these parastatals are said to rake in monthly salaries of between Sh2.2 million and Sh3 million.