Revelations that the spouses of Kenya’s vice-president and prime minister will be paid R44 800 a month for showcasing the “nation’s family values” have caused anger in a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.
Pauline Musyoka, wife of vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida, will receive the allowances despite having lucrative jobs. They will also qualify for generous travel benefits.
The women will join President Mwai Kibaki’s wife, Lucy, on the state payroll. Mrs Kibaki saw her allowance jump last year to nearly R57 000 a month to account for her “increased social responsibilities”. She has hardly been seen in public this year.
In a directive authorising the payments, civil service head Francis Muthaura said that they were being made to reward the wives for their public activities and for acting as hostesses at official functions.
“The government has taken cognisance of the critical role of the spouses of the VP and PM in projecting a positive image of our nation’s family values,” Muthaura’s notice said, according to media reports.
The controversy over payments to the political elite dates back to 2003, when the first act of Parliament in the post-Daniel arap Moi era was to increase MPs’ salaries. Subsequent hikes in allowances have made Kenyan parliamentarians among the world’s best paid, with a typical MP earning R990 000 a year, most of it untaxed.
It is not only the size of the allowances that has enraged people, but the timing. Tens of thousands of people have yet to return to their homes following post-election violence. The economy is struggling to recover, while government spending shot up dramatically because 42 Cabinet ministers were appointed.
The Sunday Nation newspaper said attempts “to invent jobs for the wives” were “patently disingenuous”.
Mrs Musyoka, who works at the Central Bank of Kenya, has made no comment. A spokesman for Mr Odinga said that his wife, who is managing director of the family molasses business, had not been officially informed of her new allowance. —