After one of the freest general elections in post-independent Kenya in December 2002, Kenyans elected a new president – President Mwai Kibaki – and a slew of new member of parliaments into the August House.
The country was upbeat; it beaten the outgoing President Daniel Arap Moi’s project and protégé, Kanu’s Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto. As the two musketeers nursed their political wounds, the electorate looked to the new parliament to spearhead the new government’s policies and development projects.
But as the ninth parliament convened for the first time – a hodgepodge of completely new and old timers, their first point of agenda on the floor of the House, was to increase their monthly salaries. What? The electorate was taken aback. The country was reeling from, and suffering an economic backlash occasioned by Moi and Kanu’s mismanagement and institutional mega corruption.
The last thing that Kenyans were expecting from the honourable MPs was to demand a pay rise in the midst of the economic hardship, they were experiencing
The last thing that Kenyans were expecting from the honourable MPs was to demand a pay rise in the midst of the economic hardship, they were experiencing. But the MPs were not deterred: Although during the campaign period, the opposition which was gearing to capture power from Kanu spoke the popular language of the electorate and what it wanted to hear; to be one with them, to understand their distress call of hard times, on reaching parliament all MPs new and old, from the opposition ranks and Kanu were united in agitating for their socio-economic welfare.
I decided to do a comparative study of what MPs earned in the East African countries of Uganda and Tanzania, South Africa and the US. Then, as now, I knew several MPs as friends and acquaintances, especially from the opposition ranks and the last thing I also expected from them, was to demand for a pay increase, accompanied with several perks that would drive the corporate world green with envy.
Kenyans were hurting, yet were ready to tighten their belts, because the new Kibaki government had promised to right the wrongs of the past dictatorial regime, help them improve their economic lot and so, it pleaded for time from them. Why were the MPs moving on a different tangent? Why did they think they were so special as to be inoculated from the suffering that every other Kenyan was undergoing?”
When I published my story in one of the leading daily local dailies, the MPs were in uproar. How dare I suggest that it was immoral at that juncture for them to ask for a pay rise when every other Kenyan was on a tight diet? How dare I accuse them of greed and uncaring? Some of them said they were not the cause of the state of economic affairs in the country? In any case, how were the two related? Their fighting for their socio-economic and political rights and a suffering economy? Some of them, therefore, accused me of inciting Kenyans against them.
The study showed that with their proposed pay, the Kenyan MP would be one of the highest paid legislators anywhere in the democratically run countries: Better paid than their compatriots from Uganda and Tanzania, better paid then than his South African counterpart, and can you imagine, better paid than a US congressman.
The article argued that the United States of America with all its economic might – the most powerful economy in the world, then as now – did not pay its lawmakers humungous amounts of money, because in the words of a congressman from Illinois whom I had interviewed, “we don’t fight to be lawmakers, so that we can earn big money. If you want the big cash, become a businessman or woman, or join the corporate world.”
South Africa, then as now, is one of the biggest economies, if not the biggest in Africa. Then, it didn’t pay its MPs better than a struggling economy like Kenya. I don’t know about today.
The MPs got their way, because they blackmailed President Kibaki and his new government. United in their scheming purpose of, it’s either our way, or the highway for Kibaki, they left the president with little or no option, but to bow to their demands.
A new President, intent on pushing for his monetary policies and development projects for economic growth, had to cave in and couldn’t stop the MPs from allocating themselves sweetheart fringe benefits and deals. He needed them to pass legislative laws in parliament and if they ganged up against him, they would slow him, pity him against the people and generally make the country ungovernable.
Afterwards, I looked for my MPs friends to ask them why they had brazenly asked for a pay rise in the wake of suffering Kenyans and economy. “Some of you just don’t know what we go through during the campaign period,” said one of them. “The electorate which you think is innocent extorts from us, you must give them money or else…We end up spending fortunes to finance the campaigns, by the time some of us are elected, we are so broke, we can hardly afford anything.”
The same electorate, said the MP, “will still want you to contribute to this or that harambee in the constituency, to some burial in the village and people are always dying, support a women’s group for this or that purpose. . . the demands are endless. The very same electorate waylays you, so that you can part with money, it is as if they’re on a mission to continually extort and exhaust your finances, so long as they can corner you.”
It is not a surprise that the new and old MPs who made it to the 13th parliament are again united in demanding for a “just” pay for the tough work ahead of them
From then on, old and new MPs first order of a new parliament is to usually to agitate for even more perks than the previous ones. They unashamedly do so, whether there is an outcry from the people or not. So, it is not a surprise that the new and old MPs who made it to the 13th parliament are again united in demanding for a “just” pay for the tough work ahead of them.
During the campaigns, all aspirants say the right things, some even say increasing their perks is the last thing in their busy minds. As the competition for getting into parliament has become so cut-throat and intense by the day, aspirants have found themselves using tons of millions of shillings to both woo and bribe the electorate and anybody else, who needs to bribed, for them to win their seats.
At the end of the day, aspirants who don’t make it go home to nurse the financial wounds, that is if they spent their own cash and have to think of ways of replenishing their reserves. Those who make it to parliament, must also think of how to recoup their “loses.” That is why, the first item of agenda of parliamentarians is to raid the national treasury kitty and demand for a salary increase beyond the wildest imagination and reach of the electorate that has just elected them.