By Jerry Okungu
February 6, 2013
This week, Sarah Serem, the Chairman of Kenya’s Salary Review Commission dropped a bombshell that is likely to reverberate across East Africa. She reduced the incoming country’s presidential salary by nearly 50% with similar cuts affecting the Deputy President.
These salary reductions that affected top constitutional office holders just didn’t simply cut the pay cheques. Where they were unreasonably lower or discriminatory, such officers got upward adjustments.
Kenyans have for a long time complained that state officers such as Permanent secretaries and MPs arbitrarily adjusted their salaries with little regard for the ordinary Kenyan or performance of the economy. This blatant looting of state funds was taken a notch higher by the 10th parliament when it arbitrarily passed questionable bills hiking MPs’ salaries under the so called Parliamentary Service Commission chaired by Speaker Kenneth Marende. This greed reached its zenith when on the last day of its sitting; a handful of MPs passed a bill at midnight giving themselves a send off package of Ksh 9 million each. Had the public not demonstrated against Parliament, they would have gotten away with Ksh 2 billion in untaxed income. The President listened to Kenyans and declined to sign the bill into law.
Kenya’s parliament has been a subject of many forums locally and even abroad. There have been situations when the salaries of Kenya’s president, his cabinet and MPs have been compared to their counterparts in East Africa, UK, Canada, USA, Germany and Japan. In most cases including World Bank assessment reports, it was found that Kenya’s state officers’ remuneration scales had no relation to the country’s GDP or even annual economic growth. This logic did not deter MPs from their insatiable appetite for more public funds and exaggerated allowances.
This appetite for higher packs by Kenyan law makers was beginning to have negative impact in the region.
Kenyan Regional Assembly members of EALA had started grumbling why they should earn less than their counterparts in Nairobi. Ugandan and Tanzanian MPs were beginning to emulate their Kenyan colleagues by demanding higher salaries and to some extent had embarked on the campaign to be at par with Kenya on such matters.
It is important to state here that there is nothing wrong with demanding higher salaries and other remunerations as long as those demands are affordable and sustainable. And that was the premise of Sarah Serem’s argument. If we could afford and sustain these obscene salaries perhaps we could all live with it. However, right now, Kenya’s recurrent expenditure stands at Ksh. 1.5 trillion yet our revenue collection has not reached Ksh 900 billion. This means that we have to borrow at least Ksh 600 billion to meet our recurrent expenditure with the bulk going into salaries and allowances for public servants.
Let us not for one moment forget that Kenya is a founding member of the East African Community and the largest single economy in the region. The rest of East Africa looks up to Kenya in more ways than one. Everything that happens in Kenya is likely to have impact beyond its borders. It is therefore important that Kenya strives to show leadership by examples that are considered within the borders of acceptable good governance practices. Looting public funds is definitely not one of them.
A good example of bad leadership was when Kenya’s political class chose to mess up the 2007 elections; the whole of Eastern Africa was adversely affected. Our instability affected our trade, travel and freedom of movement across the region. Railway lines were uprooted making it impossible for essential goods and services to reach Kampala, Bujumbura, Kigali, Kinshasa and Northern Tanzania.
This was the main reason why the international community descended on Nairobi to cool things between warring political parties that were causing untold sufferings to the people of Kenya and the entire region. It is this same reason why indeed the whole of East Africa and the international community are watching with bated breath how the hotly contested Kenyan elections will turn out on March 4 2013.
And as I write this article, a number of international observer groups from the European Union, the USA, the AU and the EAC have set up shop in various parts of the country to monitor and ensure we do not repeat the 2007 election malpractices.
Given how closely we in East Africa are interrelated economically, politically and culturally, it would be prudent for East Africa to not only take interest in Kenya’s elections that happen every five years. I submit that the whole of East Africa should take a keen interest in Kenya’s decision to slush the salaries of the ruling class and use it as a bench mark to guide similar decisions in the region. If possible, the EALA should have the courage to pass laws that should protect our economies from reckless rulers who may never see the need to provide servant leadership in this day and age.