Kenyan parliament fights to retain lavish pay

AP News
Posted: Apr 18, 2013 2:21 PM
Kenyan parliament fights to retain lavish pay

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Even before they begin their latest session in earnest, newly elected Kenyan parliamentarians are demanding a pay increase, and legislator Mithika Linturi petitioned parliament on Thursday to impeach members of a government commission that reduced their salaries.

Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 which removed the parliamentarians' powers to set their own pay, instead giving the power to a Salaries and Remuneration Commission to set pay for all public servants, including the president.

Earlier this year, the commission cut the president's annual pay from around $340,000 to $185,000. It also cut legislators' yearly salaries from around $126,000 to $78,500.

Members of the previous parliament were among the highest paid legislators in the world. The minimum wage in Nairobi is about $1,500 a year.

Linturi told The Associated Press on Thursday that his petition was not about the money, but about what he views the illegal way the salaries commission reduced parliament's pay. AP tried to contact a half dozen other legislators for comment on the pay issue, but none of them would answer questions.

The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry as legislators in the previous parliament attempted to raise their salaries to $175,000 annually and award themselves a $110,000 bonus at the end of their terms.

The public outrage culminated in a protest in January, when hundreds of demonstrators set fire to 221 coffins outside parliament's main entrance.

Many Kenyans see legislators as lazy and greedy in a country where hundreds of thousands live in slums. Legislators often argue that they need high salaries to give hand-outs to poor constituents for school fees and hospital bills.

Linturi claimed that the salaries commission violated sections of the constitution and infringed on the rights of the parliamentarians as individuals.

The salaries commission says the country can't afford the bill for government salaries, especially since the country elected 47 new governors and 67 new senators in March. The parliament expanded from 222 to 349 members.

Parliament was opened by new President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday, who told parliament that the bill for government salaries came to 12 percent of GDP, above the internationally accepted level of 7 percent. Kenyatta said 50 percent of revenue collected by government went to pay government salaries.

Late Thursday Kenyatta announced he had reduced the government ministries from 44 to 18.

Anti-Corruption Crusader Mwalimu Mati said parliamentarians should quit if they do not want the pay set by the commission.

"If they seek a confrontation with the Kenyan public on the first week of their tenure, I suspect they are going to lose," he said.