|UPDATE: The body that adjudicates public pay in Kenya, the salaries and remuneration commission, has proposed a cut in the pay and perks of lawmakers from the next parliamentary term. As explained in this factsheet, members of parliament currently earn KSh710,000 per month and when allowances are included this can double.
Under the proposed guidelines, the gross monthly pay for a member of parliament would be reduced to KSh621,250, with a clutch of allowances withdrawn. The commission has also abolished annual pay increases, and allowances for attending parliament and sitting in committees. Transport allowance has been capped while reimbursable mileage has been stopped. Also abolished is a KSh5 million official car grant.
The new terms would apply from 9 August 2017 (Kenya votes in a general election on 8 August) to the end of the term in 2022. However, this could prove an uphill task. A move to reduce salaries of the current lawmakers in 2013 fell flat after they arm-twisted the salaries commission, over which they have financial and operational oversight, into approving higher pay. In addition, Kenyan lawmakers are responsible for the law that governs their pay.
A debilitating strike by Kenya’s doctors has put the country’s public remuneration structure under the spotlight, as the government says it is unable to afford the medics’ demands.
A counter-argument by the doctors has been that handsome pay for the country’s leadership, including members of parliament, suggests this is not the case.
MPs have tended to set own pay
In 2010, a new constitution almost doubled the number of parliamentarians in Kenya from a house of 222 members to one with two chambers and 418 members in total. The National Assembly has 350 members while the rest are senators in the Senate. The total includes two speakers.
A new body, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, adjudicates public pay. It is currently made up of 13 commissioners and a management team.
The commission quickly attracted the lawmakers’ wrath in 2013 when it set their monthly pay at KSh532,500 (US$5,125 at current exchange rates), including allowances. The MPs swiftly rejected the terms, which they termed a pay cut and against the law.
The legislators have tended to set their own pay and wield significant influence over the commission as they have a say in its composition and funding.
In a battle pitting public opinion against the legislators and which saw colourful protests in June 2013, the legislators finally backed down. But this was only after they wrung major concessions from the commission, including unlimited committee meetings, for which they are paid a minimum of KSh5,000 (about US$50) per sitting.
The increased benefits had the effect of distorting the commission’s initial rules that allowance would not exceed 40% of an MP’s pay.
What do they currently earn?
So, what do the MPs earn and are they overpaid, as the media and many Kenyans often charge?
In March 2013, the commission set pay for the speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate at KSh990,000 (US$9,500) per month, increasing annually to a maximum of KSh1,320,000 (US$12,700) monthly.
Their deputies would earn KSh792,000 (US$7,630) rising to KSh1,056,000 (US$10,760) from 1 April.
The majority and minority leaders, committee chairpersons, members of the Speaker’s panel, whips and regular MPs had their monthly pay starting at KSh532,000 (US$5,320), growing to KSh710,000 (US$6,800) after five years.
The pay of the majority and minority leaders was later raised to KSh792,000 (US$7,630) and KSh765,502 (US$6,790) respectively, with a ceiling of KSh1,056,000 (US$10,760) and KSh1,020,760 (US$9,830).
The president, his deputy and cabinet secretaries are not members of parliament but for context, the president’s pay started at KSh1,237,500 (US$11,920) and will increase to KSh1,650,000 (US$15,900) from April.
Generous allowances & benefits
But the golden goose for lawmakers appears to be their perks.
A raft of benefits and allowances include an official car grant of KSh5 million (US$48,000) per 5-year term, a personal car loan from the government of up to KSh7 million (US$67,400) and repayable at 3% interest, mileage (or business class travel by air or rail in lieu) and car maintenance of KSh356,525 (US$3,440) monthly.
In addition, the legislators are eligible for a state-backed mortgage of up to KSh20 million (US$193,000) repayable at an interest rate of 3%, and a tax-free pension. They also receive a generous medical allowance for themselves, their spouse and up to four children below 25 years.
Other allowances include airtime, group life and personal accident cover, travel and notably, allowances for attending parliament and sitting in committees.
The legislators also get 31% of their basic pay for every year served as severance pay at the end of their 5-year term.
‘Exorbitant prices contribute to rising wage bill’
Are Kenya’s MPs overpaid? By comparison, a member of the South African parliament earned R1,033,048 in the 2015/2016 financial year, though it excludes benefits. During the same time, a Kenyan MP would have earned about R987,000 at current rates, excluding allowances.
Once allowances are factored in, Kenyan MPs take home at least KSh1.1 million monthly (R1,746,000 or US$127,000 annually), a national daily calculated. Another estimated a monthly salary of KSh1.387 million (R2,175,000 or US$158,000 annually).
A recent audit commissioned by Kenya’s parliament and overseen by the auditor-general found that the budget for the two-chamber house was 2% of the national budget. This is “against a global average of 0.57%” for countries where the population is between 10 and 50 million, a 2012 UN-backed report on global parliaments showed.
The audit stated that while the pay of Kenyan legislators compared favourably with other developing countries such as India and Ghana, this changed for the worse when their lucrative benefits were factored in.
These allowances were in some instances higher than the legislator’s basic pay, the auditors noted, posing a big challenge to Kenya’s wage bill.
In 2012, before many of the key constitutional changes came into effect, the annual cost per MP and staff was KSh13.5 million (US$130,000), the audit stated. Now it is KSh20.6 million (US$198,500) annually.
“Put together, the cost of running a bicameral parliament, the overrepresentation of Kenyans and the exorbitant prices paid to Kenyan MPs are contributing to the rising wage bill,” the audit report stated.
The report urged that allowances and benefits for Kenyan legislators be reduced and that they should not exceed 40% of an MP’s total package, as the salaries commission originally provided for.
Kenyan workers will be watching closely whether their MPs will contemplate this.
Additional research by Alphonce Shiundu