By Jerry Okungu
April 8, 2013
The Kenyan tax payers are a very unlucky lot. They will never get it right with their elected leaders. Despite voting massively to remove one lot after another since the 9th parliament, any set of MPs they bring in will as if programmed, instantly resort to plotting how to fleece the treasury.
How come since we changed Moi’s regime in 2002, we have been electing a hungry and greedy set of leaders to our parliament? How come that during the 10th parliament, only Johnson Muthama saw the need to pay his taxes yet even the Speaker of the National Assembly who pocketed more money than Muthama avoided taxation like a plague?
Is there a chance that we can amend the constitution to elect Kenyans who are ready to serve the country as volunteers because in life, they have made their wealth elsewhere? Or better still, can we peg elected leaders to their level of education and pay them in line with civil servants and other public servants? Why pay a Form Four school dropout the same salary as a professor just because both are MPs?
As a Kenyan, I have been thoroughly embarrassed to see that our newly elected members of parliament and county clamoring for more pay even before they perform an honest task for a single day. It is hurting to see those who were youth wingers and personal messengers of MPs just the other day clamoring for more money than the 79K they have been awarded as county reps.
Suddenly they want to live in posh areas of Nairobi where rents are in the scale of 80K and above per month. If indeed the 79K they are being paid cannot meet their monthly expenses, how did they manage their lives all these years? Did they live on trees and ate herbs and rats for a living all these years? What has suddenly happened to the public schools and hospitals they used to go to? Were they elected to serve Kenyans or to lead lavish lifestyles?
It is this same lavish lifestyle that angered Kenyans so much when the 10th parliament was hell bent on ripping the treasury of 2 billion shillings as golden handshake before parliament was dissolved. The wrath of the Kenyan voter sent 180 of them packing thinking that all would be well with the new people’s representatives. We were wrong again.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with county reps, governors, MPs and senators asking for a decent pay to cater for their needs. However, they must remember how the rest of the 40 million Kenyans live, some of who may not even afford a dollar a day. If you doubt me, travel to Lokichogio, Turkana, West Pokot and even parts of Central Province and Nyanza where abject poverty is still king.
The money they are looking for must come from somewhere. Someone must have worked for it. Our treasury is not a bottomless pit. Our taxes cannot merely be levied to lavish a few elected leaders who have done nothing for this country. When the economy improves, the issue can be revisited. Until then, they can do well to shut up for awhile and focus on the job that took them to parliament or county assembly.
I can understand if former MPs and cabinet ministers who used to earn 1000k a month have had their salaries as governors, senators and MPs slashed to just over 500k. Obviously they will need some adjusting to do. However, this Salary Remuneration Commission rationalization did not come as a surprise to them. They knew all along that public service wage bill had run amok, thanks to the greed of the 10th parliament that led the pack.
To tell you the truth, frequent upward adjustment of salaries for MPs, Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, sometimes without any justification was the reason we had so many wild cat labour strikes in Kenya in the last five years. If teachers were not on the streets, professors, doctors and nurses were carrying placards demanding haki yao. If civil servants were not downing their tools, the police were grumbling and engaging in go slow protests. It was because they could not understand why they should take home 10k per month while MPs who worked three days a week took home 1000k a month!
There is too much wastage in public service. The other day I saw a newspaper report that alleged that the public service spends over Ks 4 billion in tea and flowers in one year. One wonders what Ks 4 billion would do to the people of Turkana who are perpetually in abject poverty. What would happen if there was a freeze in the buying of flowers and tea for public service workers for just one year?
This country needs more super highways not just Thika Highway. We need working modern railway and commuter buses in cities like Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. We need security, food sufficiency, healthcare, better classrooms, books, laptops and enough teachers for our schools. We need more trained doctors, nurses, lab technicians, medical equipment and medicines for our hospitals and clinics.
Kenyans are dying in their thousands due to the inadequacy of the police force to man traffic on our roads or simply to shield us from external terrorist attacks. We need more money to train and deploy more police officers, buy faster moving police vehicles to properly keep surveillance on our highways and net criminals before they plant bombs in our cities. We need cash to manage perennial floods!
We need more money to provide universal healthcare for all Kenyans at home and abroad. This universal healthcare will make Kenya a healthy and productive nation. The more reason we cannot waste our limited resources on a group of people whose output has always been difficult to quantify.