Wednesday, September 17, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 15, 2008

An article in Kenya’s Daily Nation on South Sudan recently made me curious. It touched on a sensitive issue of how to deal with remunerations of public servants like MPs, Ministers and constitutional office holders.

Before this article appeared in the Daily Nation, the debate whether to pay wives of senior ministers in Kenya $8000 a month had raged for a long time, with opinion sharply against such payments.

The issue of salaries for politicians and top civil servants has been thorny for a long time in Kenya. It got worse when in 2003; the first item on the 9th Parliament’s agenda was to increase MPs’ salaries by 1000% allegedly to help elected leaders cope with endless fundraising demands from their constituents. However, even after the same MPs extracted Constituency Development Funds from the Treasury and passed a bill in Parliament outlawing public fundraising by politicians and civil servants, they still kept their $15,000 untaxed monthly pay perks.
As it is, Kenya’s is the most expensive Parliament in the entire region if not in the whole world, not withstanding its small economy compared to Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria, Canada or Britain.

In the run up to the last General Elections, when William Ruto was still campaigning for the presidency, he intimated that if elected President, he would reduce MPs salaries from the current $ 15, 000 to $ 3000! Since this government was formed, no MP including William Ruto has revisited the issue.
Of the 220 MPs in the current Parliament, only Haroun Mwau is the only person credited with donating his whole monthly salary to his constituency.

It was therefore refreshing to read from South Sudan that the young nation’s cabinet had deliberated on salary levels of state governors and other officers and decided to rationalize them in line with salary scales of their counterparts in Northern Sudan.

In so doing, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) resolved to cut down salaries, emoluments and entitlements for constitutional post holders in the region. The cabinet reviewed unequal salary structures for respective constitutional post holders. A typical case of inconsistency was where one governor of a state was earning about $8,800 monthly while another was paid $4,550 per month.

After a week of deliberations, a ministerial committee adopted salary structures of Northern Sudan for all levels of executive organs. The resolution will finally standardise and equalise, after three years, salaries, emoluments and entitlements of Government of South Sudan, state ministers, advisors, governors and commissioners at various levels of government.

Now all 10 state governors will be receiving an equal basic salary of $600 monthly plus other benefits adding up to $5,475 to put them at par with GoSS ministers. Allowances will include cost of living, representation, accommodation , travel and housing subsidy some of which will be paid in lump sum as required.
Effectively, this decision has affected salaries reductions of up to 20% to 35% for those that used to be in the upper scale and an increase of 5% to 10 % for those that used to earn less.

Coming back to Kenya; one only remembers too clearly how tax proposals that the former Finance Minister made in this year’s budget caused uproar in some quarters in Parliament. Some MPs even suggested that to tax their $ 15,000 monthly pay cheque would reduce them to the level of their electorate!

If South Sudan has seen it fit to rationalize the salaries and benefits of its public servants, it must have been a painful decision taken by the top country’s policy organ- its cabinet after facing the reality of abject poverty facing their own people.

One is in no way suggesting that our politicians should receive salaries below poverty line and neither is anybody suggesting that they should not lead comfortable lives. After all, they play a crucial role in our lives as our elected leaders. What we are asking them is to be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers like we all are in our small way from time to time.

This being mindful of the welfare of others is perhaps what drove Ruto to suggest a reduction in MPs salaries to $3000. It was the same reason Haroun Mwau decided to donate his MP salary and his other earnings to improve the lives of his people.
Can we say the same for other leaders in Kenya today?