Kenyan MPs vote to increase their own salaries

Demonstrators march towards Parliament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on May 14 2013, protesting a scheme by Kenya's new MPs to increase their salaries. (AFP)

Demonstrators march towards Parliament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on May 14 2013, protesting a scheme by Kenya's new MPs to increase their salaries. (AFP)

Their pay was slashed from $126 000 to $78 000 earlier this year by a government commission which said the country's wage bill was too high.

The salaries and remuneration commission also argued that although Kenya is among the world's poorer economies, its legislators were earning more than French legislators.

Kenya adopted a new Constitution in 2010 which intended to remove the parliamentarians' powers to set their own pay, instead giving the remuneration commission power to determine pay for all public servants, including the president.

Earlier this year, the commission cut the president's annual pay from around $340 000 to $185 000.

The minimum wage in Nairobi is about $1 500 a year, but many live on even less.

However, the parliamentarians got around the commission's decision by voting to overrule the pay cut.

Voting
In a well-attended session of Parliament on Tuesday, the MPs unanimously voted to remove the directive reducing their salaries and many then walked out after the vote, even though there were other important reports and motions to be discussed.

Eric Mutua, chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya, said his organisation will challenge the legislators' attempts to disregard the commission's directive in court.

Mutua is seeking directives from the court on whether Parliament has the power to overturn the directive by the salaries commission.

Mutua said that the new constitution prevents parliamentarians from passing legislation which affects their own interests.

He said that even though Parliament had voted to remove the directive, it did mean the government was obliged to pay them their previous salaries.

Many Kenyans see their legislators as lazy and greedy in a country where hundreds of thousands live in slums. Legislators often argue that they need high salaries to give hand-outs to poor constituents for school fees and hospital bills.

Public protests
The efforts by the MPs to raise their salaries have sparked public protests including one earlier this month in which pigs were released outside the main entrance of Parliament by civil society activists to signify the parliamentarians' greed. 

About 250 people carrying placards and banners marched through Nairobi's city centre and staged a sit-in at the legislators' entrance to Parliament.

"Don't like the pay? Quit!" one of the placards read. Demonstrators repeatedly shouted "thieves."

The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry when the previous Parliament, whose term ended in January, attempted to raise their salaries to $175 000 annually and to award themselves a $110 000 bonus at the end of their terms.

The salaries commission says Kenya can't afford the bill for government salaries, especially since the country elected 47 new governors and 67 new senators in March.
The Parliament expanded from 222 to 349 members.

When newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta opened Parliament in mid-April he told legislators that the bill for government salaries came to 12% of GDP, above the internationally accepted level of 7%. He added that 50% of revenue collected by government went to pay government salaries.

Kenyatta recently urged the MPs to grow the economy before they demand salary hikes. – Sapa-AP

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