The East African - - OPINION -

Time to open con­ti­nent to its peo­ple, not out­siders.

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 equaled 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

It is mind­bog­gling that at some point, a doc­tor earned about a tenth of what an MP took home.”

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.

The Salaries Re­mu­ner­a­tion Com­mis­sion did not re­alise just how cen­tral its work was to the process of reengi­neer­ing the Kenyan state

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based so­cial and po­lit­i­cal co­men­ta­tor E-mail: teen­gugi

Nurses in Kenya went on strike for three months last year, de­mand­ing a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with county gov­ern­ments, and blamed the Salaries and Re­mu­ner­a­tion Com­mis­sion for lax­ity in push­ing for it.

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