By Jerry Okungu
June 5, 2013
Some three members of the National Assembly were breathing fire and brimstone in Kenya’s parliament last week. They wanted their slashed salaries reinstated back. For this reason, they went berserk and raged at everybody they could lay their eyes on.
At first they vented their wrath on Sarah Serem the chairlady of the Salaries Remuneration Commission. They called her names and even intimated that she was not qualified for the job. Never mind that the same MPs were the same people who interviewed and gave her the job.
When that line of protest was not working, they enjoined the entire SRC Commission and threatened to sack the whole lot if their salaries were not reinstated to pre 2013 levels. It was a week of madness and loss of mind on the part of the MPs.
When chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution Simon Nyachae waded into the saga by threatening to sue any staff of the Parliamentary Service Commission should they dare pay the MPs their old salaries, the whole house ran amok. They bayed for Nyachae’s blood questioning his duties at the CIC. Some of them even called him a busy body.
The spat with Nyachae and Serem finally spread to all the `11 constitutional commissions. MPs felt slighted and now wanted to vet all commissions a fresh and reduce their numbers from 9 to 3 and even the three would be put on part time job! They claimed that there were too many commissioners earning too much money and wasting public funds.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta waded into the salaries dispute with MPs and seemed to support Sarah Serem, the angry MPs turned their guns on the Head of State.
They threatened to paralyze the National Budget process, reduce the President’s salary by 57% , abolish VAT and exempt any Kenyan earning Ksh 50,000 and below from paying any taxes.
However, even after throwing all these tantrums for a good two weeks, it would seem like the honorable MPs were merely blowing hot air. Sarah Serem and her commissioners are still office. All other commissioners are still sitting pretty. The President’s salary has not been slashed. What remains is that the Ksh 532,000 that Sarah’s commission gave them is still standing.
As the wrangles in the National Assembly reached its crescendo, the belligerent MPs chose to open another battle front. This time they were spoiling for a fight with their counterparts in the Senate. The origin of the fiat seemed to have emanated from the Finance Bill that had been debated and passed by the Lower House and passed on to the Senate. However, on second thoughts, some MPs felt that the Finance Bill should not have gone to the Senate.
As the two houses argued back and forth, some hot headed MPs started insulting and calling Senators names. Others called them retirees while others called them wazees. Then came a clincher. Some MPs dared to bring a bill in the Lower House to disband the three month old Senate claiming that it has no meaningful role in Kenya.
As all this drama was unfolding, the civil society had their own idea. They needed to confront this tyranny of numbers in the National Assembly. They had fleeced Kenyans throughout Kibaki’s reign and were bent on continuing that legacy under Uhuru Kenyatta. For that reason, the Civil Society organized a rare demo in which several pigs were delivered at the gates of the august house with plenty of blood for pigs to feed on the whole of that morning. Some pigs were even branded with names of the most vocal MPs that were baying for Sarah Serem’s blood. Yes Kenyans wanted to tell MPs that they were as greedy as pigs if not worse!
With all this drama around us, the public got busy debating the merits and demerits of the two august houses.
Right now we have 67 members of the Senate and over 300 members of the National Assembly. They are all on the same salary scale even though senators represent larger constituencies seven times larger than MPs.
In fact the current parliament looks like a school hall where the Speaker finds it difficult to know the names of his MPs. One wonders what meaningful debate goes on in there considering the numbers to deal with let alone their diversity.
If indeed Kenyans choose to disband one house, recent events have shown that there is more sense and maturity residing in the Senate. Removing over 300 MPs from the payroll and sending them home would save this country billions of shillings not to mention wrangles and cheap debates now preoccupying the National Assembly.
The size of our country, our economy and population does not need 310 MPs to squander our meager resources. If America’s 50 states can only elect 400 Reps to Congress to serve its 300 million people with a land mass of a half a continent, we have no business trying to outdo them in parliamentary representation.
Kenya can best be served by the Senate comprising of 67 members.