Monday, June 16, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Hargesia, Somaliland

Glances at budgets read in Dodoma, Kampala and Nairobi last week, one noticed several areas of convergence as well as divergence. In most circumstances, there was the over-riding spirit with the vulnerable low income earners in our region. This is what informed the removal of taxes on most consumable items like bread, milk and rice and substantial reduction on duty on imported raw materials for food production telecommunications and educational facilities. In essence, the budgets provided a win-win situation for most low income earners and the ruling class.

What spoilt the party was the unusual stand-off between Ugandan MPs and their Speaker over the mishandling of the MPs by the police just before the budget was read. Now that the MPs from the Opposition staged a walk-out before the budget was read, how will they debate its contents when the time comes?

Tanzanian Finance Minister has pledged to reduce donor funding in their budget. This is great news considering that there is so much public resource going down the drain due to graft. If Kikwete can seal these loopholes, Tanzania can begin the journey to real self reliance.

Considering the treatment of the political class in Kenya, especially the well to do members of parliament, ministers and assistant ministers, it was most appropriate that finally taxes ware levied on their fat salaries so that they too could plough back something to the society that maintained their lavish lifestyles. For many years, Kenyans have wondered aloud why MPs who sometimes earned more than the salaries of private sector executives were allowed to retain all their earnings tax free. More intriguing was the realization that in East Africa, Kenyan MPs were the best paid compared to their counterparts in the entire region.

Talking of Kenyan MPs, I have come to realize that in Somaliland, the monthly salary of an MP is US $300, the equivalent of Ks 18,000. A friend told me that if I have to invite MPs to a workshop the way corporate organizations in Kenya lure them to the Coast, all I need to do is to pay them an allowance of $10 and and they will all be there. Then I thought about our MPs back home. I wondered aloud if any MP would turn up for a seminar in the middle of Nairobi for a Ks 2000 daily allowance!

The last time BAT lobbyists took MPs to the Kenyan Coast for a retreat, they caused the company an arm and a leg with little to show for it. Their packages included first class air tickets for a 45 minute flight, a five star exclusive beach resort, all expenses paid and a KS 40,000 allowance! For a three day workshop, our MPs pocketed the equivalent of $ 2000 each, enough to pay a Somaliland MP four months’ salary!

Talking of Kenyan MPs’ salaries, did I hear William Ruto, now Minister for Agriculture make that his campaign issue in 2007? Did I hear him suggest a reduction in MPs’ salaries from the current U $ 15,000 to U$ 3000, the equivalent of Ks 200,000? 00? Did William Ruto mean it from the bottom of his heart or was he just being fashionable and populist?

Soon after the elections, another honorable Member of Parliament from Machakos, Mr. Muthama threatened to move a bill in Parliament to slush MPs salaries! What happened to his voice? Was he threatened by his colleagues or did he just discover that it was the most dangerous thing to do at this point in time?

Of all the newly elected Members of Parliament, only John Haroun Mwau from Eastern Province has pledged his entire parliamentary earnings and more to his constituency development. What I hear Mwau has done is to supplement his resources and CDF funds with his salaries for the next five years. Grapevine has it that he has categorically said that he went to Parliament not to get rich but to lift the living standards of his people. And he intends to do this by building good roads, bridges, sinking boreholes, installing electricity in every home, getting piped water in every village hut and making sure learning under trees on stones becomes a thing of the past for his constituents. With this kind of exemplary vision from a mere assistant minister, can we have more converts in the current parliament following in Haroun Mwau’s footsteps?