After every election year, as surely as the night follows the day, Kenyan Members of Parliament use the House’s opening session to increase their salaries.
Taking a closer look at the East African region, Kenya comes first when it comes to MPs’ pay, Uganda second and then Tanzania and Rwanda. There is no doubt that Kenyan legislators are among the best paid in the world.
In 2013, a study conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union compared the salaries of different parliaments around the world. It noted that, from 2008, there was a not unexpected decline in these salaries due to the global economic crisis.
Given ever-rising populations, governments will have to find ways of saving resources in order to sustain their people.
However, common sense is not so common these days. Considering that legislators in Kenya earn more than any other East African country, is this in correlation to our population?
Both Kenya and Uganda have over 400 legislators but are smaller in population size compared with Tanzania. Tanzania has a population of 59 million, Uganda 44 million and Kenya 50 million. In Uganda, the total number of legislators is 432, Kenya has 416 and Tanzania 357.
Examining other countries in Africa, the same imbalance emerges. South Africa, which has a population of 57 million and Nigeria with 195 million, have 490 and 469 legislators each. The GDP in South Africa and Nigeria is also higher. Once more, we seem to be overrepresented in our legislature.
Still, the bone of contention is the salaries that we pay MPs. On May 1, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a Labour Day announcement increasing minimum wages by 18 per cent. On Labour Day 2018, President Kenyatta increased the wage again, by five per cent, and complaints were heard to the effect that the previous 18 per cent had not been implemented.
What does that mean to the average worker? For instance in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, Kenya’s three main cities, a worker earning a minimum wage of Ksh12,900 ($129) will earn Ksh620 ($6.20) more. That means that if they travel by matatu for 30 shillings one way, working five days a week, the addition to their salary can pay for transport for two weeks. That is, if you are lucky enough not to work Saturdays.
If your transport is 60 shillings per trip, then you have transport for one week. Thus the increment cannot even support a worker’s transport to their place of work. Mind you, MPs’ basic pay is in the range of Ksh600-700,000 ($6,000-$7,000).
Recently, as I was heading to the office, I took a moment to observe the number of people who walk to work. There is such a large number and it seems to be increasing by the day, because getting to work is so expensive.
Although the minimum wage has been set by the president, thousands of workers still receive pay below that amount, many receive below 50 per cent of the stipulated wage.
When it comes to increasing salaries for the average worker, this offer is literally peanuts. Granted, salaries for people who work in public office are not always easy to determine.
Although many elected officials claim to need high salaries because of the demands of their voters, the solution is not to increase their salaries to sustain handouts, but to find ways to alleviate poverty so that people are not dependent on handouts.
Many countries have come up with proposals to place caps on the differential between the highest earner and lowest earner so as to keep resources allocated for public wages reasonable.
Listening to Members of Parliament talk about the difference between a house loan and a mortgage while they receive sitting allowances, vehicles, medical insurance and other privileges that the taxpayer will have to pay for, it is clear their heads are in the clouds and they are out of touch with what the people they lead actually need.
Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place, a Kenyan political hub dedicated to “creating an environment that mainstreams youth and women into politics.” Twitter: @NerimaW