General Ogolla's simple lifestyle worth emulating by our legislators

A photo of General Francis Ogolla during his humble burial in Siaya on April, 21, 2024. [File, Standard]

In life and in death, the simplicity and frugal lifestyle of a man who controlled a Sh143 billion budget that is out of reach of public scrutiny is humbling and astounding.

Within 72 hours of his death in a chopper accident that occurred at Sindar, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, General Francis Ogolla, was laid to rest last Sunday in a manner that even paupers would eschew. According to his wishes, there were no frills, no wastage and notably, he was interred without a coffin. 

Most endearing are the Christian values he instilled in his family, evident in their deportment, conduct and utterances throughout the short period of mourning. Unlike many of us, Ogolla acknowledged the inevitability of death and prepared his children for it.

When it finally came, no matter the pain, they embraced it stoically. The takeaway from the numerous tributes in honour of Ogolla is that he exemplified servant leadership in its truest form. 

This contrasts sharply with the affected, grandiose lifestyles of most of our elected leaders who mostly stay aloof once they get into office. Some of them must have been scandalised by Ogolla’s frugality in the midst of abundance that he could have helped himself to.

Vanity defines them, given their insatiable appetite for unjustifiably huge salaries and perks, chase cars and fuel guzzlers with tinted windows permanently rolled up for protection against the ‘riffraff’ who elected them. 

Their legendary extravagance contributes greatly to Kenya's debilitating wage bill, an issue that successive governments have been unable to address. In 2014, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto made a perfunctory attempt to cut the wage bill by taking a 20 per cent pay cut each, but that is as far as it went, until now. 

It took the ongoing doctors’ strike in which they are demanding better remuneration to jolt the government into calling for a discussion on the runaway public wage bill. The level of willful wastage in government is shocking, and Parliament takes the accolades.

Even as President Ruto put civil servants on notice that the wage bill must come down from a high of 46 percent to 35 percent of revenue, he should not lose sight of the fact that Parliament is equally wasteful.  Members of the august House have created a special work category for themselves outside the ambit of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which makes it hard for SRC to contain their excesses.

Besides a Sh10 million medical cover, a car loan of Sh7 million, MPs also get a grant of Sh5 million and a monthly salary of over Sh600,000. Additionally, they get a fixed car maintenance allowance of Sh325,000 and mileage allowance and have absolute control over NG-CDF funds. 

In 2016, SRC presented a report to Parliament that, inter alia, proposed a cap on the number of sittings that MPs, MCAs and the Judicial Service Commission can have in a month as part of the measures to tame a runaway wage bill. MPs would have none of it, and went to the court where SRC's decision was later annulled.

When SRC started pushing for a reduction in the civil service workforce by 60,000 workers, and a cut in the allowances that civil servants are paid, it proposed that allowances should not exceed 40 per cent of an individual’s gross pay. No doubt, implementing this will help lower the wage bill. 

However, Ruto must tame Parliament and ensure SRC is empowered to regulate the salaries of MPs, as well as have its recommendations implemented as a means to aid reduction of the wage bill. Barring that, the president will be chasing the wind.

The power of MPs to determine their own pay and perks should be taken away to facilitate SRC’s work in harmonising salaries payable to civil servants, commensurate with the work put in. In 2012/2013, Kenya’s wage bill stood at Sh439 billion. In the 2019/2020 financial year, it had almost doubled to stand at Sh827 billion.