Friday, June 20, 2008



Daily Nation

Publication Date: 6/20/2008

Life is bloody unfair, if the standard issue Kenyan MP is to be believed. It is the traditional story of poor little rich kid. Their pay packet reads like the average woman’s idea of heaven on earth.

They are said to earn significantly more than MPs in better-off countries. But to hear them tell it, theirs is a tale of misery.

Why anyone should then fight tooth and nail – literally, sometimes – to get to Parliament is beyond comprehension. A little bird recently told me that some spent as much as Sh30 million for only 5,000 votes in some constituencies.

If you have that kind of loose change, another Sh18 million over five years is hardly something to write home about. Only an idiot would go to such an extent if the end result is a negative pay check.

Children do not eat titles, no matter how high-sounding. Titles do not pay school fees either. Given the violence that attended the last election, it is also safe to assume that no one in their right mind would sponsor maiming, raping and killing orgies just so they can end up living on peanuts.

If those in an uproar over taxation are to be believed, their constituents are a little more than vampires hell-bent on sucking every little drop of cash out of their pockets.

When they see their MPs, they do not picture mortals with needs and responsibilities like everyone else. They see mobile ATMs.

Those cash cows are now bristling at the notion that they should give to Caesar everything that belongs to him. In a land where conspiracy theories abound, MP Bonny Khalwale’s heartfelt protest will go down in the annals of history, much like Marie Antoinette’s if-they-don’t-have-bread-let-them-eat-cake.

In the heat of the moment during debate on Wednesday, he asked: “Do they want to make us as miserable as our constituents?” It is to be hoped the people of Ikolomani heard it, loud and clear.

Let us take a quick look at what our dearly beloved leaders are entitled to: We give them some Sh3 million to buy cars duty-free, Sh75,000 in car allowance, and Sh366,000 to ensure their fuel-guzzlers remain on the road. They also get drivers and bodyguards.

We give them Sh8 million in housing loans each term at an interest rate of a mere three per cent and a house allowance of Sh70,000 to ease their mortgage burden.

There is a constituency allowance of Sh50,000. Their total allowances come to Sh651,000 out of a package that works out to Sh851,000 every month. There is even an extraneous allowance of Sh30,000, whatever that means.

That they should pay tax on only Sh200,000 is an outrage in a country where hardworking citizens pay up to 30 per cent of their income in tax and 56 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

It is a devious scheme to cheat the Consolidated Fund of much-needed resources. Yet many MPs – we have been told with glee that the protesters are in the majority – have the audacity to cry foul.

Where I come from, the word for shame translates into a swollen head. It announces to the world that you have no principles. You become an outcast if you persist on this path.

The central argument that the anti-taxation brigade advances is that much of their money is spent on subsidising a plethora of needs of their constituents. They contribute to weddings, bride price, funerals, sports days and homecoming parties where food and drink flow like the Nile.

But they also have at their disposal an innovative account called the Constituency Development Fund. Whereas it can never be enough to do all that is necessary to raise the living standards of all Kenyans, the fund is so unique that MPs from other countries have come visiting to see whether they can play copycat.

If MPs are expected to play bountiful, they have only themselves to blame. We do not elect them to give us handouts. We expect them to lead from the front and pursue a political course that will enable us to take care of ourselves without having to resort to begging and blackmail.

The same Khalwale argues that taxing MPs’ salaries will not solve the poverty issue. Agreed. But we pay him to show us how to do so, not offer sorry excuses.

Besides, the MPs could have exercised what little conscience they have and rejected the Cockar recommendations or scaled them down. They made their bed; let them lie on it.

At any rate, many of them appear to think that all they need do to earn their keep is suck up to their party leaders and they will be guaranteed an easy meal ticket for at least five years.

You tell the stuff of which someone is made only when they are under pressure. In the subsequent debate, the name-calling and counter-accusations over those who have benefited from grand corruption has been as hugely entertaining as it has been revealing.

We spent billions of shillings on commissions to investigate Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing – and their children and grandchildren – when our MPs already knew so much!

If MPs will not do the honourable thing, treat them like other working Kenyans. Deduct what is due from them at source. The alternative is just as simple: Redirect their allowances to the CDF account or funds for women, youth and the disabled.

That should cut the ground from under their excuses – and also cut them down to size.