President's generous pay rise angers Kenyans

The Kenyan Parliament’s decision to raise President Mwai Kibaki’s salary by 186% has outraged many in the East African nation where more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Parliament voted this week to raise Kibaki’s monthly salary to nearly $30 000 a month, plus allowances of $18 600, officials said.

That makes 75-year-old Kibaki, already a multimillionaire with large retail property businesses, one of the best-paid African leaders and a bigger earner than many Western heads of state.

“It’s a very shocking and outrageous thing to do. Now our president is earning more than the United States president if you take into account relative per capita incomes,” said Maina Kiai, chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

“It shows the culture of entitlement is very real; we hope the president will reject the new pay rise,” he said.

On the streets, most Kenyans were appalled. “It’s pathetic.
He should pay university lecturers first before giving himself a pay rise,” said student Susan Birungi (20), referring to a recent strike by academics at the chronically underresourced Nairobi University. “The money he has been getting is enough, but most of our politicians only think of themselves.”

Among the continent’s best paid but least productive legislators in terms of laws passed, Kenyan politicians are constantly pilloried in local media as being more interested in their pockets than the national good.

Government spokesperson Alfred Mutua defended Kibaki’s raise, saying some civil servants, like the head of the anti-corruption commission, had been earning more than the head of state.

“We can’t have a president who is paid less than some of the people he leads,” Mutua said. “It is in keeping with international standards and even the former retired president [Daniel arap Moi] earns more than the current one.”

As ordinary Kenyans and civil society groups led a chorus of criticism of Kibaki’s pay rise, opposition politicians were relatively muted in their reaction.

Anyang’ Nyong’o, secretary general of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement coalition, for example, reserved his criticism only for the dual system of salary and allowances. “The idea of giving people [a] salary in different pieces is setting a bad precedent,” he said.

In a random survey of Kenyans in Nairobi, only one backed the extra money for Kibaki, who has ruled for the past four years and is expected to seek re-election in 2007. “We have a very good president. He is supposed to be paid more. He has done better for us,” said businessman Nelson Njoroge (50).—Reuters

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