NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan activists on Tuesday spilled cow blood outside parliament to protest political leaders' attempts to raise their salaries in a country where most earn only $1,800 a year.
Civil society activist John Abuka said the spilled blood symbolizes Kenyans' suffering at the cost of maintaining their leaders' salaries.
About 200 activists marched to parliament while castigating the members, locally known as MPs, for their "greed." Some protesters now call their political leaders MPigs and on Tuesday branded parliament "a piggy bank."
"We don't know what work they do to demand such high salaries from poor Kenyans' taxes," said Fredrick Odhiambo who attended the protest.
MPs last month voted to overturn a directive that reduced their pay, hoping it would force the government to pay the higher salaries earned by the previous parliament.
Parliament's annual pay was cut from $126,000 to $78,000 by a government commission. The average income in Kenya is about $1,800 a year, a fact fueling the pay debate rage.
In parliament on Tuesday, minority legislators approved budget cuts recommended by the Budget and Appropriations Committee ahead of Thursday's budget reading. The sparsely attended session was a stark contrast to the nearly full attendance seen whenever legislators discuss their salaries.
Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 that intended to remove parliament's powers to set their own pay, instead giving the remuneration commission power to determine pay for all public servants.
Earlier this year the commission cut the president's annual pay from around $340,000 to $185,000.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission has argued that although Kenya was among the world's poorer economies its legislators were earning more than those in France.
Many Kenyans see their 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.
The efforts by the members of parliament to raise their salaries have sparked public protests including one last month in which pigs were released outside parliament.
The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry when the previous parliament, whose term ended in January, attempted to raise their salaries to $175,000 annually and award themselves a $110,000 bonus at the end of their terms.
The salaries commission says Kenya can't afford the bill for government salaries, especially since parliament expanded from 222 to 349 members in March.
When newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta opened parliament in mid-April he told legislators 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.
Kenyatta has urged the MPs to grow the economy before they demand higher salaries.