A memo to MPs: The stars do not favour your extra benefits push

A section of the Mps led by John Kiarie in a dance during their  induction at Safari Park hotel, Nairobi on September 19, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The priorities of the 13th august House seems to have taken the all well-trodden path by those before it. One would have expected our ‘Waheshimiwas’ to take time to reflect on the wishes of their employers and appreciate the immediate pressing issues during their one-week induction at Safari Park Hotel.

On the brighter side, it was refreshing to see them stay through for the entire week almost full house as per the media coverage of the proceedings. I have no recollection of former Parliaments having such inductions. Besides, it is an open secret that majority rarely have the patience to engage in sessions, both in Parliament or outdoor events beyond appending their signatures for the sitting allowances.

On the contra side, while am not privy to the detailed programme for the induction, I have a feeling that priority topics like Personal Financial Management, Retirement planning, Objective review of the CDF Act Supreme Court ruling and citizen engagement were missed out. Their penchant for debate on their benefits and allowances is completely out of touch with the realities confronting their employers. It also fails to draw lessons from the failures of the immediate past two Parliaments and voter behaviour.

Dismal Performance

On the dissolution of the 12th Parliament about four months ago, The Standard evaluated it as probably the most corrupt in history; acted as an appendage of the Executive instead of their Constitutional mandate; passed bad laws and failed to address issues facing those they represent; failed in their oversight roles on public debt and official wastage; and united in greed, ganging-up together when it came to their benefits and allowances.

These assertions can be supported from a statement issued by the Parliamentary Service Commission dated 19th July, 2019. It sort to clarify on the actual benefits and allowances for MP following a widespread public outcry on their insatiable greed for more from the tax payers. According to this Statement, an MP was only entitled to a modest taxable monthly pay of Sh532,500. It denied MPs took home at least a million bob per month.

Curiously, the statement remained completely vague on the actual amounts they earned in attendant allowances, priviledges and profitable opportunities they enjoyed from their involvement in the National Government –Constituency Development Fund. This brings us to the current debate on their benefits and allowances and how it was arrived at. On the question as to whether setting the current rates was participatory or not, the view taken by the Speaker and MPs is not factually correct.

On the Salaries and Remuneration Commissions website, there is a Circular on the Proposed Remuneration and Benefits for State Officers, dated 14th December, 2021.  This was uploaded at 4.22pm, inviting for public views and comments with rates given for each State Office position under review for 2021/22 -2024/25 period. There are trails of evidence from mainstream media that the 12th Parliament made written submissions to SRC recommending increased pay in April/May.  The revised Salaries and allowances were gazetted on 28th July, 2022 and harmonized with all other State Officers.

Therefore, on the question of reduction of salaries and benefits for MPs is a legal nullity because all the 1,884 elective positions were vacant as at the date of determining their compensation. Anyone running for office at least knew the employment contractual terms before presenting themselves for elections on 9th August, 2022.

The Facts

The next natural question to ask is whether MPs are truly underpaid. Comparing the gazetted benefits with other countries may miss out on important domestic conditions and realities. For this analysis, we look at salary distributions for key clusters within the domestic economy. SRC on a circular dated 30th August, 2022 clarifies the public wage bill stood at Sh944.89 billion in 2020, up from Sh622.269 billion in 2015/16. This represents an increment of 51.85 per cent and 46.45 per cent of the Sh2.034tr tax collection on June 30th 2022.

Under the gazetted benefits, the least paid MP per month inclusive of all monthly benefits before committee allowances will be the MP for Starehe at Sh1,109,516 assuming he only claims a round trip mileage of 60Kms per week. This figure increases to between Sh1,229,516 -1,349,516 depending on whether he is nominated into any of the Parliamentary committees, has a special duty or chairs a committee.

His counterparts from Taveta or Samburu West constituencies that are at the furthest under Zone One for mileage claims at 350Kms will earn between Sh1,435,303 -Sh1,675,303 under either of the above conditions. The MP for Mandera East will earn a gross of between Sh2,024,828 -Sh2,264,828 under either of the same conditions. These benefits exclude a one-off Sh7.55 million benefit for a 3000cc official car; Annual Sh10m for in-patient medical cover among others; and car loan and mortgage benefits of Sh8m and Sh35m respectively at 3 per cent interest. In addition they earn juicy daily subsistence allowances for local and foreign travels.

Data on the estimated 2.92m Kenyans in formal employment from different sources including the Kenya Bureau of Statistics and Kenya Revenue Authority indicates only 84,907 earned at least Sh100,000 as per the 2019 census survey. As at December 2021, this figure had dropped to 79,909. An estimated 781,964 earned between Sh30,000 -Sh49,999 with another 1,260,400 earning below Sh30,000.  Thus, about 75 per cent of the employed population earned less than Sh50,000 per month. Of those earning over 100,000, 62.6 per cent are male with the female accounting for the rest.

Given the largest sector of the economy is informal, estimated at about 83 per cent as per the 2022 Economic survey, there are over 15 million Kenyans missing in these statistics. Majority of them are outside the tax bracket, mainly on daily or weekly wages or small-holder farming and livestock activities across rural Kenya. To make sense of this data, these folks on the bottom of the food chain double as both the taxpayers and the voters who employ the MPs.

It is for this reason that the clamour for more benefits as first priority for the newly elected MPs sounds obnoxiously insensitive. Ironically, the Kenya-Kwanza formation that constitute the majority has been crying foul on social media that they found empty coffers at Treasury. How then can we explain these contradictions? What can we make of the quality of representational leadership in this country?

Not as ignorant

I bring this analysis to our Honorable Members with love as informed by voter behaviour trends since 2013 elections. In 2017, at least 166 (or about 60 per cent) of the 290 MPs and 32 Women Representatives were voted out. In 2022, at least 211 including 146, 34 and 31 MPs, Woman Representative and Senators were voted out.

As at the date of this article, you’ve just had your first seating in the bi-cameral Parliament. Do these stats make sense? Given this forced attrition rates in Parliament, does the voter seem ignorant as you presume her to be? Do we imagine her behaviour come August 2027 will be different without tangible behaviour change on the part of the 13th Parliament and 3rd Senate? Does she even care of your theory of justification that your salaries are community salaries in her favour?