Sunday, April 19, 2009



April 19 209

By Juma Kwayera

Your MP is probably so impoverished he would not rate creditworthy at a kiosk.

Our inquiries have established that nearly half of the 222 MPs are so steeped in debts for subsidised meals at Parliament canteen that the money is no longer deducted from their salaries.

An impeccable source at Parliament’s catering department told The Standard on Sunday in confidence, it has become difficult to recover money owed by these MPs because "they earn nothing". And some apply for one-year salary advances, which further compromises their credit rating.

"We used to raid their allowance and mileage claims, but we were stopped from using that way to get what they owe us. We now have to depend on their goodwill, or wait to recover the money from their pensions or the Sh10 million gratuity when their tenure lapses," said the source.

Among the chronic cases are an Assistant Minister from Rift Valley in his second term and an Assistant Minister from Luo Nyanza, whose debt of Sh100,000 to the National Assembly’s catering department has been outstanding for over a year. Two Assistant Ministers from Kisii owe the department between Sh80,000 and Sh50,000.

An ODM-Kenya MP is yet to clear a bill of Sh70,000. An Assistant Minister from Central Rift and two first-time MPs from North Rift owe between Sh70,000 and Sh100,000.

Tax arrears

The officer said an ODM-Kenya allied minister, whose salary the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) attached for non-remittance of income tax before he went to Parliament in 2002, began earning a salary when he was re-elected in 2007. He spent his first term paying tax arrears. This is just the tip of the iceberg. MPs interviewed spoke of the extremes they have to go to prop the aura of an MP, despite the their financial embarrassments.

Konoin MP Julius Kones told of colleagues who can only sneak to their constituents, after an election because their earnings are tied up in loans for expensive cars, mortgages and settling debts incurred during campaigns.

"Most of us take home less than a quarter of our gross salaries. We resort to fighting to sit on House committees for allowances or mileage claims," says Kones, a first term MP.

He said most MPs take advantage of tax exemption to borrow huge loans and invest in businesses to cushion themselves against a future poll loss. Only Sh200,000 of MPs’ salaries are taxed, although they earn over Sh800,000 per month.

Richer benefactors

Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo says the long list of pauper MPs could undermine the integrity of Parliament, as some lawmakers are beholden to their richer benefactors and are vulnerable to bribery to influence voting on crucial Bills.

"In Parliament, there are serious income disparities. There are MPs who amassed wealth before they came to Parliament and MPs who are earning their first salaries. Under pressure to be role models, we are forced to lead certain lifestyles, which erode the value of our salaries. The income disparities set society’s expectations high, which we are expected to meet," says Gumbo.

Our source says the MPs’ payroll has been withdrawn from junior personnel officers and placed in the custody of the National Assembly’s Principal Personnel Officer, lest the truth about the financial positions of the legislators leak to the public.

The Assembly’s Principal Personnel Officer Douglas Ng’ang’a declined to comment on these allegations when contacted.

"Only the Clerk or Speaker can comment on the matter," he said. Contacted, the Clerk to the National Assembly Patrick Gichohi claimed to be unaware of the allegations.

"I’m not aware of what you are saying. What I know is MPs can pay for their meals and drinks," said Gichohi on telephone.

Naivasha MP John Mututho said MPs have committed their money to other projects, and that their pay slips reading zero does not mean they cannot meet other obligations.

"You can see the face of someone who is broke … walk around town and you will see. But don’t tell me that an MP driving a 4000cc vehicle can be broke," said Mututho

Demonise MPs

He noted that there are people who just want to demonise MPs.

"Hawa wajumbe wanakaa sawa sawa (these MPs live well)," asserted Mututho.

Details of ‘broke’ MPs coincided with a campaign by 40 non-governmental organisations under the banner of Partnership for Change for rallies to pressure the Government to trim public expenditure.

"Analysis of previous budgets point to numerous budget lines where MPs can cut Government expenditure. Among these are the provisions in the national budget for foreign travel, fuel, utilities such as electricity, and water, purchase and maintenance of motor vehicles; rent by the Government; hospitality expenses; and tax waivers and privileges of elected officials," the organisations said, in a statement posted on their website on Friday.

They said such waste had made the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals more difficult. "All wasteful expenditure must be removed from the national budget estimates to be presented to Parliament in June," the said.

Lawyer Harun Ndubi shares this view. He says MPs, like other workers, should be subjected to accounting standards to seal loopholes through which they engage in corruption.

"Civil servants cannot be advanced more than 50 per cent of their salaries. It is incredible that MPs can get one-year salary advances. What the public should know is that most politicians are rich businesspeople or have alternative sources of income.

"They use these salary commitments to engage in corruption," says Ndubi.

If the Parliamentary Service Commission were to compel MPs to adhere to the provision that their net income should never fall below a third of their gross earnings, the lowest they should be earning would be Sh250,000. They earn more than Sh800,000 per month. However, this is never the case as nearly half the MPs earn less Sh100,000, raising serious questions about how they balance their books without engaging in illegalities.