Ekuru Aukot, the Kenyan opposition politician who ran for president in last year’s election, and who heads the ThirdWay Alliance party, has started a movement to reduce the number of members of parliament in the country.
This initiative rides on the back of a growing sense that Kenya’s population of 45 million is overrepresented in parliament.
The reduction proposed by ThirdWAy will save the country about Ksh30 billion ($30 million) every financial year.
That, by any measure, is not small change and would go a long way in reducing the country’s ballooning public wage bill, a significant amount which goes to paying ridiculously high wages for the said MPs, senators and people who work for constitutional commissions.
For many years, MPs had the peculiar privilege of determining their own worth and awarding themselves salary increases.
To date, Kenyan MPs are some of the highest paid legislators in the world in absolute terms.
As a percentage of gross domestic product, they are by far the highest paid legislators since the invention of parliamentary democracy.
To cure this runaway greed, the 2010 Constitution created the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) which was mandated to rationalise and control the wages of all public officers.
However, when it attempted to reduce the salaries of MPs, the legislators threatened to disband the Commission.
The Commission, itself earning super salaries, knew which side of its bread was buttered. It backed down. It was only a few months to the end of its term that the Commission found the guts to propose a modest cut to MPs’ salaries, a proposal that has little chance of being implemented.
During the SRC’s tenure, doctors, nurses, teachers, lecturers etc, went on strike over their paltry pay. It is mindboggling that a doctor at the time was earning about a tenth of what an MP took home, minus massive sitting and other allowances.
Incredulously, it would later emerge that the MPs, not yet satiated with pay that equalled that of heads of major corporations, would falsify travel claims in order to rake in a few more thousands of shillings.
Meanwhile, policemen, who risk their lives trying to bring an ever rising crime rate under control, worked in deplorable terms and conditions of work.
The SRC did not realise just how central its work was to the process of reengineering the Kenyan state.
The SRC would have helped to rearrange the value architecture of the state by placing value, and commensurate remuneration, where it was due, thereby reversing the gross anomaly of politicians being on top of a hierarchy of valuable people in society.
Like the small visionary it proved to be, the SRC could not see beyond its own stomach.
But back to Aukot’s proposal. Laudable as the initiative is, it needs to bring on board a broader representation of the Kenyan society, and transform itself into a national convention that will debate, not only over-representation and reduction of MPs, but also do an audit of the Constitution.
Reducing the number of MPs would require a constitutional amendment. So instead of amending the Constitution in a piecemeal fashion, it would make a lot more sense to isolate other constitutional provisions that would need amendment.
For example, the Senate has been arrogating itself business and power not provided for in the Constitution. It has been usurping powers given to parliament and County Assemblies.
Given its limited role as per the Constitution, it would make sense to transform it into an assembly along the lines of the British House of Lords.
Accordingly, those serving in the Senate would be retired professionals who had excelled in their particular disciplines. They would meet only when the need arose.
Other than eliminating the conflict of interest in the present arrangement where Senators over-sight governors — whom they aspire to replace — such a rearrangement of the Senate would save the country billions, as Senators would now essentially be volunteering their services and would, therefore, only draw sitting, travelling and other allowances.
There are other matters in the Constitution that would need tweaking, like for instance, the terms of bail for suspects of terrorism, murder and rape.
It is a national security issue when a terrorist suspect, caught planning to kill thousands, is released on the same terms of bail as a chicken thief. We also need to give prosecutorial power and more independence to the anti-graft Commission.
Among other matters, we need, too, to relook at the balance of power among the three arms of government, to eliminate the current animosity among the three over suspicions of overreach of one into the business of another.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based social and political comentator E-mail: teengugi @gmail.com