The escalating war between legislators and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) over the contentious Sh250,000 house allowance that MPs awarded themselves two months ago is tragic.
Our legislators went ahead, ignoring a chorus of protests and even backdated their booty to last August, raking in a single swoop of Sh2.25 million each.
Reports that MPs plan to amend the SRC Act in what also comes across as vengeance adds to the tragedy because it strips bare and exposes the presumption that institutions charged with ensuring checks and balances critical in a democracy are in any way functional.
SRC’s stance on the matter is that Article 230 (a) of the Constitution empowers it to review the remunerations and benefits of all State officers. That this has been cynically defied by MPs points at deficits in SRC structuring and the bluntness of the legal instruments at its disposal to effect its mandate.
This, unfortunately is the plight of most institutions, prompting one to pose whether they are deliberately created to be vulnerable to manipulation, thus doomed to fail.
Legislators, on the other hand, insist they are legally outside the ambit of the SRC purview on matters of emoluments and other gains that recently benefited them including higher car grants, allowances, enhanced medical cover exclusively guided by Parliamentary Service Commission provisions. Subsequently, any other regulatory mechanism outside the PSC, they insist, amounts to infringement.
The standoff is getting ugly, with strident MPs now moving to cripple the operations of SRC by targeting the SRC Act for amendment to render the commissioners part-timers, much like their pioneers, with stipend reduced to Sh50,000 per sitting with no more than four such sessions per year.
Kenyans are of course alive to the fact that it is the legislature that appropriates funds to other arms and departments of government. But this role must be guided by logic and preclude being misapplied. It is telling that a matter that is before courts is being treated with such level of contempt, with legislators gathering to spitefully denounce the move by SRC and activist Okiya Omtatah, insisting that the house allowance move is irreversible.
Nobody begrudges legislators the right to dignified life. However, what rattles Kenyans is lawmakers predisposition to wallow in ritzy opulence and glitter as voters are pushed to the edge.
The Finance and Planning and the Budget and Appropriations committees have latched on SRC over expenditure of Sh99 million to buy cars for commissioners and additional Sh300 million sought by SRC for additional office space.
It is a tragic narrative of conspicuous consumption by the privileged. Pragmatism must dictate that reviewing any public remuneration structures would factor in the current strains on the economy and not quid pro quo games.
Kenyans equally expect the SRC to spend prudently and not pander to dictates of thoughtless sense of entitlement. Indeed if it were not for contempt shown by legislators, there is every logic in their call that the commissioners who earn Sh1 million each do not have to work on full time basis. And the Sh99 million for the limousines for the 13-member SRC also reeks of unacceptable profligacy.
As things stand, the current legislative structures do not appear to be adding representative value to Kenyans as MPs do not appear to be sufficiently responsive to concerns of voters. If they were, they would do more to address the pitfalls of unemployment, insecurity, stagnant earnings, strive to cobble up a more stable and united country and help stem the growing segment of the underclass instead of extortionist conduct. Indeed, a recent Africog conference returned a sobering verdict of State capture by cartels, thriving in corruption and a country mortgaged to elite interests.
MPs and SRC alike must worry about the validity and sustainability of the current public expenditure, growth rates, development goals and restrain themselves towards policies that are economically inclusive and promote equity. It is unsustainable that we are drifting into different socio-economic orbits.
But the elephant in the room is the leadership’s preoccupation with self-gain. This is voter education week. How concerned are we about how we hold elections; the flimsy motivation of the voter and the rapacious intentions of candidates?
I found the confession by a nominated legislator during live TV debate not long ago that of the three candidates seeking the seat, he spent the least at Sh30 million with the runner-up spending Sh60 million and the eventual winner Sh90 million. Of course, he did not say how he had arrived at the figure the rivals spent, but that notwithstanding, it’s enough to assume that such huge investment can be in vain or is driven by civic duty or charity.
The war chest for those vying in Kenyan elections from ward representation to presidency must be interrogated. At the core of corruption in this country and the streak of aggressive and underhand acquisition, pushing elected leaders to behave like a shoal of piranhas, is the desire to recoup what is spent on elections and to return favours to bankrollers.
Voter education is provided for in both the IEBC Act and the Elections Law (Amendment) Act of 2016. For purely self-serving reasons, nobody appears willing to take voter education as seriously as should be the case so that the influence of money is not at the heart of elections.
Indeed, widespread inducement of voters and bribery takes place in part because the Independent Elections and Boundaries, whose mandate includes voter education besides overall regulatory and monitoring role, does not do the job.
Truth is that every candidate has self-serving interests in poll outcomes. Integrity does not always inform part of how they approach the campaigns. It is thus increasingly clear why candidates are prepared to spend over Sh30 million to be elected MP.
The contentious Sh250,000 house allowance and the one million monthly pay is part of balancing the books and ensuring the enterprise thrives.
The Elections Offences Act is unambiguous on bribery. The penalty is a fine not exceeding Sh1 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both. The candidates know it so does IEBC but having legislation is one thing and enforcement quite a different ball game.
MPs justifying bleeding the Exchequer because voters make all sorts of demands on them is a limping argument that can and must be cured. It must start at genuine and intensified voter education and institutionalising civic education.
Politicians can and must agree on methods and even curriculum on voter education so that nobody cries foul. It is time the values of democracy were felt beyond casting a ballot after Sh50 bribe to a desperate voter. [email protected]