Kenyan MPs in Parliament. (Photo: Courtesy)
A Kenyan lawmaker earns about 100 times the income of the average citizen, in the worst case of preying by elected and nominated representatives the world over.
And last week, the legislators were at it again, this time demanding compensation, collectively estimated at Sh3.5 billion, as golden parachute in case they are not re-elected in the August polls.
On Friday, the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) defended the MPs’ demands, saying they had the right to negotiate with the National Treasury and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) for better perks.
Each of the 416 MPs earns a monthly salary of more than Sh1 million against the national average income of about Sh11,000, according to the latest available official estimates.
With the ambiguity of the size of allowances granted to the legislators who hardly a week ago demanded additional severance pay, it is highly likely that the representatives’ remuneration exceeds Sh1 million.
In effect, the MPs are the highest-paid group in Kenya and it is difficult to value their role which only helps to distort the nationwide pay structure for other professions.
A past study of politicians’ salaries, compared to the average productivity in all countries, found the greatest disparity in Kenya at 97 times, followed by the Palestinian Authority in a distant second at 24 times.
Hungary was ranked as the fairest among the countries surveyed, with the average citizen earning just about the same salary as their representative.
Human resources professionals told The Standard on Sunday that the income disparity between representatives and the ordinary Kenyan has incensed professionals such as doctors who have been on a strike for slightly over two months.
“It is immoral that MPs are paying themselves so much and care less about the citizens,” said Dorcas Wainaina, the executive director at the Institute of Human Resources.
Ms Wainaina said the widespread industrial actions and unrelenting strike threats are a result of resentment about the huge pay disparity.
“I am sure doctors are protesting this pay gap, it is not that they cannot return on easier terms,” she said, and added that the MPs are “dishonest.”
Her biggest concern as a HR professional is that elected representatives lack leadership qualities and always place their selfish needs ahead of their constituents’.
So lucrative are the legislators’ office that it has drawn interest from thousands of professionals who are expected to resign from their jobs to contest in the upcoming polls.
High unemployment levels, estimated at above 17 per cent, have helped depress the national average.
Official data places the average monthly income for workers in the formal and informal sectors — the 15.1 million-odd Kenyans actively engaged in some form of economic activity — at Sh50,354.
MPs’ income is still nearly 20 times more than the pay of the salaried and self-employed.
Kenya’s per capita Gross National Income (GNI), a measure of tracking total income earned divided by the size of the entire population, including children and older people, is only Sh11,000. GNI is the is most accurate measure used in the comparison of income levels in the world.
Thousands of least paid workers, including gardeners, are still below the national average with stipulated minimum wage often disregarded, even though the protection of such vulnerable individuals should fall within the mandate of the pampered MPs.
It is normal to find such cadre of workers earning Sh5,000 in wages a month, while their legislator earns 200 times as much. In absolute terms, Kenyan MPs still earn more than their counterparts in the US and UK, despite the two economies being multiples of the size of Kenya.
And in both the US and the UK, representatives earn less than four times the national average, to ensure that their salaries closely tally with those of other professionals.
At the centre of the pay controversy in Kenya is that MPs determine their own remuneration, side-stepping the SRC which objected to the actions.
As soon as the current House was sworn in after the 2013 General Elections, the MPs decided to fix their salaries and cunningly made it look like they had lost in their bid to raise the basic salary from Sh532,000 to Sh851,000.
Instead, they pushed through their demands to remove an upper ceiling on receivable allowances, sparking a national outrage, but that did little to change their resolve.
Currently, MPs take home more in allowances than their untaxed salaries, with claims of fraudulent reimbursements and inflated mileage allowances being promptly silenced.
SRC is currently carrying out a jobs assessment to determine the appropriate levels of remuneration for various job grades in the public sector.
It may, however, be unable to set the MPs’ salaries after failing in its earlier attempt to rein in the powerful lawmakers.
Kenyans’ burden is further compounded by the large number of such officials, including governors and Members of County Assemblies (MCA), who all earn sinfully high salaries.
Even with their high salaries, they are still entitled to allowances which increase their overall earnings to a scale that is impossible to determine.
And the saddest bit of it all is that an MCA who possesses no academic qualifications and contributes little if any to the national discourse, earns more than a medical doctor.